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Girls on the Run: Empowering push girls, one race at a time

Two young girls running, with an older runner holding their hands.
What makes a push girl? Push girls are strong, independent women with a fierce determination to go for what they want and not let anyone tell them otherwise. Push girls are funny, loyal to their friends, and always ready for the next big adventure. They’re teen activists, Paralympic athletes, politicians and everything in between. And when they hear “can’t,” they say “watch me.” Being a push girl isn’t about your ability status or background: It’s about what you make of yourself.

Which is why groups like Girls on the Run are so awesome, because they’re helping us raise the next generation of push girls.

Girls on the Run empowers young women with a curriculum centered around running, getting girls ready to participate in local meets in their communities. At the same time, participants are provided with the valuable tools of self-respect, independence, and healthy living. They also develop and complete community service projects to build a sense of cooperation and community. Girls of all backgrounds are welcome in the 10-week program, which culminates in a mile or 5K race for participants, and they can keep coming back for more if one session just isn’t enough.

The idea for the organization came to founder Molly Barker when she was running in 1993. She was struggling with the conflicting messages sent to girls and young women and wanted to help build a world where women got to define themselves, rather than needing to rely on others for self-worth. In 1996, she started a pilot project, which soon exploded into similar efforts across the country.

A girl running down a track.
In ten weeks, girls go through a series of structured lessons that promote the core values of the program, and they’re encouraged to interact with other girls in a small class format, supervised by a trained coach. The classes include warmups, exercise and cool-downs to get the girls moving, all in preparation for the eventual goal of completing a community running event. No matter how you get across the finish line, the important thing is that you get there.

Participants in the program include girls with a variety of disabilities, like autism and ataxia, which impairs motor skills. Whether they’re using an adaptive chair for running, being pushed by an aide or walking with a friend, they’re participating. In a world where young girls with disabilities often feel isolated and surrounded by messages that they can’t keep up with their nondisabled classmates and friends, Girls on the Run helps them tap into their inner push girls.

If you can’t stand up, stand out! PUSH GIRLS airs on Mondays at 10P.

Photo credit: Steven DePolo