Written by John Stephen, Correspondent
“If they could just bottle how you feel after the run,” Claire Walton says, describing how running always makes her feel better about herself, her family, her day and her entire life.
Walton is the director of Girls on the Run South Georgia, and while she may not be able to package the endorphins released after a run, she is using running to bring joy and valuable lessons to young girls all over town — and she’s teaming up with VSU sororities to make it happen.
GOTR is a national non-profit organization that takes small teams of third through fifth grade girls through a 10-week program that creatively integrates running into lessons on important concepts, such as being physically and emotionally healthy, setting goals, and encouraging those around you.
In 2015, GOTR served over 179,000 girls through 225 councils nationwide. Walton started a council in Lowndes County last year, and she currently oversees program sites at five schools in the area. She hopes to expand the program to middle schools and additional elementary schools in the fall.
Since 2012, the Alpha Sigma Alpha sorority has maintained an official partnership with GOTR as part of the sorority’s philanthropy work. This partnership includes raising money for GOTR and volunteering at the end-of-season 5K, a celebratory race that’s open to the public where each girl completes the course with a running buddy over the age of 18. This year’s 80s-themed, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” 5K will take place April 23 in Hahira.
Alex Deaton, president of ASA’s Theta Mu chapter at VSU, has volunteered with GOTR since 2013, and is glad she and her sorority sisters can now support GOTR right from Valdosta. At last season’s 5K, ASA members provided the girls with bright tutus and cheered along the sidelines while waving encouraging posters.
Deaton, along with several other ASAs, currently volunteers as a coach on a local GOTR team. Being a coach means attending GOTR sessions twice a week, helping to teach the day’s lesson through fun games and interactions, and supervising and encouraging the girls as they run.
Deaton says the topics discussed with the girls at GOTR will stay relevant for a lifetime.
“I’m 20 years old learning new lessons that I wish I had as a child like these girls are receiving,” Deaton said. “Girls on the Run isn’t just running. It’s more of how these young girls can get through hardships that may be thrown their way such as bullying and peer pressure.”
Walton echoes that sentiment.
“It’s not a running program,” Walton said. “We use running to teach them about life and to teach them about themselves. And we constantly say ‘just keep moving forward.’ A lot of times (in life) you just have to keep taking another step when it’s hard and when it’s difficult.”
Walton has also tapped into VSU’s Kappa Delta and Phi Mu sororities to gain volunteers, coaches and running buddies.
Taylor Rowland, a member of Kappa Delta, is a GOTR coach and intern, and she says she loves seeing the girls become stronger through running, physically and emotionally.
“I believe running has the ability to give anyone confidence, no matter the age,” Rowland said. “Running has always been something I am passionate about, and I love (seeing these girls) develop that passion when they achieve their goals.”
When the girls run together, they each set their own goal and run at their own pace. Along the way, coaches hand out beads, jelly bracelets, pipe cleaners and other fun objects to visually represent the girls’ accomplishments. Walton says this system helps the girls to realize that it’s ok to have a different goal than your peers, and challenges them to compete with themselves rather than their teammates.
For more information on GOTR, to volunteer with the organization, or to register for the upcoming 5K, visit www.girlsontherunsouthgeorgia.org.