A few claps of thunder and an unexpected rain shower didn’t stop Girls on the Run participants from testing their longevity in an 800-meter race with professional runner Barbara Parker.
“I really hope it doesn’t rain any more,” said 11-year-old Bella Swiatek, as she and several friends stared at the empty and very wet track at Kermit Tipton Stadium on Thursday evening.
The girls waited patiently while rain continued to fall, just hoping for the chance to see how their running skills have improved since enrolling in the Girls on the Run program several weeks ago.
“There’s about 24 total lessons in the curriculum and most schools are at lesson 13, which is about the halfway point in training for the 5K,” said Jessica Thomas, council director for Girls on the Run of Northeast Tennessee.
“It is perfect because we talk a lot about pacing and it’s a nice way to break them in for what it’s like to run two laps.”
About 369 students across eight counties are enrolled in the after-school program. It focuses on teaching preteen girls about self-respect and healthy lifestyles as they train for a 5K race. Milligan College invited the third- through sixth-graders in the program to participate in an 800-meter race at the Johnson City Invitational Track Meet.
“It’s not a competitive thing for us, it’s just about coming out and having fun and getting the exposure,” Thomas said.
Milligan also invited Parker to run alongside the Girls on the Run participants. She also spoke with students at Fairmont and Lake Ridge elementary schools.
“Especially when you’re young, you want to try to explore everything, like different sports,” said Parker, a native of England who is currently training for the 2012 Olympics in London. “I tell them just to have fun and find out who they really are.”
The young girls who heard Parker speak listened closely to her advice.
“We learned not to drink a lot of water before you run but after you run, that way you can run more,” said Bella, a first-year participant.
Young girls are often drawn to the program through word of mouth and are amazed at how much they accomplish both mentally and physically.
“I’m surprised at how much I’ve progressed in doing it,” Bella said. “At first I would walk on the track the whole time and I started running and now I can run the whole track two times, non-stop. ... Me and my friends think it’s like guidance class, except you run afterward.”
It’s evident how proud the girls are of themselves for making it this far in the program, though they still have a few training pains to go through before the 5K race at Milligan College on May 20.
“At first I never believed in myself and now I do,” said Madi Mahoney, 9.
Once the rain subsided, the Girls on the Run finally got a chance to circle the track with Parker, who was prepared to run in any type of weather.
“We run in the rain in England,” she said with laugh. “I want them (the girls) to know how good of a program this is and how it can help them become a good person.”