Girls On The Run
RUNNING TO BUILD SELF ESTEEM
Story: Sue Edmondson
When Joanne Crosetti has a problem, she runs—literally. “Running helps me work through my emotions. It’s a great way to figure things out,” she says. “When I was a teen, if a boy broke up with me, I’d go for a run instead of drinking or using drugs. It helped boost my self-esteem— I’d feel so much better after."
Those were feelings that Crosetti wanted to share, and volunteering seemed the perfect way to do it. She geared her search toward programs that incorporated running.
She found a winner with Girls on the Run. The organization’s mission coincided with her own—using running as a vehicle “to educate and prepare girls for a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living.”
It sounds like an ambitious undertaking, but Girls on the Run makes fulfilling the mission easy, says Crosetti. “Volunteer coaches follow a set curriculum. You don’t need running or coaching experience to participate—you just need to believe in the value of exercise to help girls be more aware of who they are,” she says.
The program is deceptively simple—twice weekly for three months, the girls and coaches spend an hour together after school. Yes, the girls train (each will finish a non-competitive 5K run), but that’s just a small part of it. While improving their fitness, they’re also increasing selfesteem, developing team building skills, combating negative peer pressure and gaining a positive body image. The best part—it’s all done through fun and games. “Sometimes the girls forget they’re exercising,” Crosetti says.
It’s easy to see why it works when she describes an exercise. “First we make labels with negative statements like, ‘I’m not pretty,’ and put them on the girls’ backs. They run a few laps in silence, looking at these labels. After, we talk about how it made them feel, and as you can imagine, it’s not good. Then we make positive labels and do the whole thing again. This time, the girls encourage each other as they run. At the end of the exercise, they always say how much better the second half makes them feel. They’re learning to replace negative thoughts with positive images.”
Her involvement with the organization began in the Bay Area, where she volunteered to coach. When the family moved to Redding three years ago, she decided to bring the program with her. It was a big commitment—she trained at Girls on the Run headquarters in North Carolina at her own expense. Now she’s hit her stride as Executive Director of Girls on the Run Shasta County. “I still coach, though—it’s so rewarding.” She laughs. “I think I get more out of it than the girls do.”
Sara Quenzer would probably disagree. The 10-year-old, three-time participant says, “We learn how to work together and how to make good choices when we’re out in the world. It teaches you how to be a good person and keeps you healthy.” She pauses to catch a second wind. “And it’s really fun.”
“This has built her confidence,” says mom Susan Quenzer. “Before, she was never one to try new things. Now she is.” Another benefit? “She talks about peer pressure and how to deal with it.”
“I can’t say enough about the program. It’s absolutely wonderful,” adds Christine Woroniecki, whose 5th grade daughter Rebeckah participates. “It’s especially beneficial for girls who don’t play team sports. It completely changes their self-perception—they see themselves as athletes.”
Terri Thorne appreciates the life lessons her 10-year-old daughter Sarah has taken from the program. “It gives the girls a chance to talk about so many topics in a positive peer group setting. They’re such good examples for each other. And their confidence is a beautiful thing.”
Volunteers are the heart of the program, and Crosetti needs more. “A lack of coaches is the only thing that holds us back from expanding to more schools,” Shae says. Currently, Girls on the Run is open to third through fifth graders at Grant, Bonny View and Alta Mesa elementary schools. Sixty children enrolled in the fall 2008 session.
That’s not nearly enough, according to Sara Quenzer. “A lot more girls should do it.” •
For more information, visit www.girlsontherunshasta.org