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In Sports

Girls on the Run participants stretch before Laura's Smile Mile. Photo courtesy of GOTR.

In Sports

Girls and their running buddies knock out the laps on the Pettit Center.

Cooperation over competition: Girls on the Run

Even on chilly weekends in November, runners have at least a half-dozen 5K races to choose from.

Only one of them emphasizes cooperation over competition, and gives all its young participants bib No. 1.

The Girls on the Run of Greater Milwaukee, an expanding youth development effort, hosts its first outdoor 5K Turkey Trot on Sunday, Nov. 18, in Greenfield Park. More than 150 girls who participated in the 12-week program through the fall will put their training to the test and encourage their new-found friends.

Organizers will celebrate their accomplishments and the significant growth in Girls on the Run, which started locally in 2007.

This fall, the volunteer group hosted programs at 13 locations, double the previous number, and provided training and counseling for 180 girls.

Nationally, Girls on the Run reaches more than 200,000 girls each year.

Participants in grades three through eight meet with their volunteer coaches twice a week. They first discuss a daily lesson crafted to build self-esteem, respect for others and healthy lifestyles, then they run to prepare for the race that culminates the program.

"I love the fact that it has three parts to it," said Tina Jones, executive director of the GOTR Milwaukee chapter. "There's the focus on the individual, learning about themselves, what makes them special and unique.

"Then being part of a team. You can see the bonding happening and the mentoring between them," Jones said.

"The third part is learning what it means to be part of a community. You give back and others give back to you."

Each group completes a community service project. At one site this fall, the girls organized a lasagna bake sale to raise money for a classmate with leukemia.

That spirit of caring and cooperation carries through to the 5K run itself.

In earlier years, the Girls on the Run participants raced in Laura's Smile Mile. Stacey Meyer remembers all of the girls gathering, as organizers packed up the finish area, to cheer one girl struggling well behind the pack. She had hurt her ankle the week earlier, but wouldn't give up on her race, and her friends wouldn't give up on her.

"I think that's one of the things that makes our run unique," said Stacey Meyer, president of the GOTR Milwaukee Chapter. "The girls really support each other. You hear them calling each other on by name, someone they didn't know weeks ago.

Girls on the Run hosted its first stand-alone race in the Pettit Center a year ago, and organizers decided to move outdoors to Greenfield Park, this year. While the run is open to the general public, the focus is on the girls and the kids' activities that introduce youths to running.

Each of the girls will have a running buddy join them, either a family member, friend of volunteer.

"They're all nervous, so nervous before," said Sheila Wordell, the race director. "At the finish, there's relief and excitement and they're proud of themselves and rightly so."

The Girls on the Run Turkey Trot starts at 11 a.m. Race-day registration is $30.


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