It was 45° at 9 a.m. at South Mountain Reservation on Saturday, but young girls ages eight and up were jogging in place and singing warm-up songs, undaunted by the cold. Dressed in everything from jeans, to running tights with tutus and costumes, this year’s Girls on the Run 5K was the energetic and much-awaited culmination of these girls’ training program, which began in September throughout Eastern New Jersey.
“We are expecting over 1000 girls to run today,” said Lori Kapferer, Director of Community Relations for Girls on the Run New Jersey East.
The philosophy of GOTR is to empower and support girls ages eight and up, teaching them healthy fitness habits and improving their joy and self-esteem.
Some girls jumped up and down with excitement, chanting motivational songs. Others hugged their moms and dads, teachers, coaches or “running buddies” for support. Running buddies were, for the most part, female volunteers like me who showed up (and were handed hot pink superhero-type capes) to run with and support any girl who did not have a cheering section to the finish.
But the event was not just for girls and women: many dads were in attendance to run with and support their girls. TJ from New Providence sported a “GOTR Dad” t-shirt. Joining his daughter Maggie as she ran her first 5K, TJ explained that he is training for a marathon, so he and Maggie ran together to prepare for today. Asked how she felt, Maggie said “nervous and excited.” “It was great to train together,” said TJ.
Another dad, shown in profile holding his daughter’s hands, was giving her a pep talk. “What did you learn to prepare for today?” he asked, looking into her eyes. “Confidence, strength and perseverance, right?” She nodded, and they embraced.
Though the course was more strenuous than anything some of the participants – including parents – had experienced before, an inclusive spirit felt throughout ensured that no one was left behind. About 1 mile into the race, I saw three little girls whose energy had already flagged. Yvette, Mia and Oriana, aged eight and nine, complained of stomach pain, cramping and hunger. Still, they did not quit, even after I was admonished for giving the tallest one of them a 100-yard piggy back ride when she said she could not go on.
All girls crossed the finish line, no matter how long it took them, and they were awarded medals and given high fives. Asked by her coach how she felt upon finishing, Oriana said, “Hungry. And tired.” “And what else?” pressed the coach. Oriana thought a moment. “Happy,” she smiled.