You might say Ani Boyd is a woman on the run, so it’s appropriate that she founded a Girls on the Run chapter in Northeast Tennessee. Boyd has now taken a back seat in the organization she started here in 2007, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t involved and still running.
It all came about after Boyd had her own love affair with running following a tough time through middle and high school and even early college. “Growing up I was always athletic. I played a lot of sports and was very outgoing,” Boyd said.
“Then I gained a lot of weight in fifth grade and that’s when I began reverting back into ... I wasn’t as confident about who I was and I wasn’t as confident about playing sports at that time.” Boyd said she “never wanted to be the girl that messed up, I didn’t want to be the person who accidentally shot the wrong basket.”
She put pressure on herself to conform, but the worry that she “wasn’t good enough” lingered around her. That kept growing inside, but Boyd was sure that losing weight was the answer. “I always had this notion that if I lost weight everything would work — I’d be popular at school, have a boyfriend, get better grades,” she said.
Boyd thought everything “would fall into place if I changed the way I looked.” And she did. In college she started losing weight — to the tune of 70 pounds — and was running and exercising. “But nothing changed. I still was unhappy, I still was consumed by this self consciousness of being aware of what I thought everyone was thinking about me.”
Her career in housing wasn’t very fulfilling, but Boyd focused on the running and right after college ran her first 5K.
“The sense of accomplishment and strength I felt from doing that was addictive. I wasn’t fast, I wasn’t going for a specific time, I really just wanted to do it. And to be able to accomplish a goal that I felt was pretty lofty for myself was just empowering,” she said. “I started running more and exercising more. I found that as I got stronger and stronger, I was changing the way I felt about myself. I was making new and closer relationships with friends, I was happier. I started to love who I was on the inside.”
By the mid 2000s, Boyd was working for the Northeast Community Services Agency on a project to help Hurricane Katrina victims find new homes in Tennessee. Boyd had already heard about Girls on the Run but had never been in a place in her life she could work on it. “There came a time that everything fell into place for Girls on the Run to come together,” and the community services agency helped with seed money for the new nonprofit.
“What appealed to me with Girls on the Run is it meets them where they are, just the way they are and encourages and empowers them to be the best they can,” she said. It’s something that Boyd wishes she’d had as a kid.
The 12-week program has two sets of 24 lessons that teach girls about their power, decision making, healthy living and their strengths. The program also nurtures the participant’s physical, emotional and spiritual health, although there is not a religious aspect to it. Goals of Girls on the Run include reducing potential risks of eating disorders, teen pregnancy, substance abuse and depression.
“Our program uses running as a tool for them,” Boyd said. And what started with one group of 15 girls at one school has grown to 769 girls in schools all across the eight-county Northeast Tennessee region.
Boyd said anyone can be involved in Girls on the Run as a coach or volunteer. For more information about Girls on the Run of Northeast Tennessee, visit the website at www.gotrnetn.org.