Panthers cross country team volunteers with local 5K race at Georgia State Stadium

Photo courtesy of Tiffany Farmer of Girls on the Run

The Georgia State cross country team assisted Girls on the Run Atlanta with their annual end of the season 5K at Georgia State Stadium.

The 5K, held on Nov. 10, came a day after the women’s cross country team finished 20th in the NCAA East Championship in Tallahassee, Florida. The team traveled back to Georgia to volunteer with the run in the same fashion as it did in 2017.

Head coach Chris England first reached out to Girls on the Run last season. This season, England said the team has shown excitement about having the chance once again to participate with the 5K.

In October, England told The Signal that the team was equally excited to renew some of the relationships that were formed last season during the run.

It is fitting, however, that the Panthers would deem it necessary to help out in their own backyard.

To have the women of Georgia State’s cross country team gives the girls of Girls on the Run Atlanta an indelible image that they won’t soon forget.

The cross country team is also aware of what their participation means for the event and for their own program.

Senior Angela Alonso, who was tasked with aiding the children at the starting line in 2017, said that to see the girls excited about fitness and running made the event that much more worth it.

“As a college athlete, I would definitely like to give an example for younger kids,” Alonso said. “[Playing] sports at college is a great opportunity but you also have to work hard. Practice and class take a lot of time but if you plan ahead, it is always possible to volunteer or do something nice for the community.”

Girls on the Run’s mission is to empower young girls to be confident and to enjoy a healthy lifestyle through fitness. Girls on the Run Atlanta is driven to help young girls not just with their physical health but also with their mental health.

“Our program provides skill-building experiences to nurture girls’ physical, social and emotional competencies that they apply in other areas of their lives such as home, school, and in the neighborhood,” it reads on the organization’s website.

“Completing a 5K at the end of the season gives them a tangible opportunity to apply all that they have learned,” the website states.

Girls on the Run was founded in 2000 and is a nationwide organization that has done work in most of the country. Girls on the Run’s message of better connecting the community is a moving one that has translated to many other states around the nation.

Girls on the Run’s message is one that coach England and Georgia State Athletics resonated with and wanted the team to take part in championing.

“We worked with the Georgia State Athletic department to recruit volunteers for the race and expanded the partnership with the [cross country] team this year to have [cross country] runners with each of our waves leading the way, as well as a couple of runners in the very back as the ‘caboose’ so that we had support from the fastest runners to the walkers,” Stuart Dougherty, community outreach director for Girls on the Run Atlanta, said.
Each season at Girls on the Run is a two-month program that ends with a 5K aimed at reinforcing the lessons taught. This program’s aim is to nurture the students into becoming mature, conscientious individuals in society.

“We know that girls’ self-confidence begins to drop by age nine, and that physical activity levels decline starting at age 10 and continue to decrease throughout adolescence,” Dougherty said.

“At Girls on the Run, our mission is to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running. Girls on the Run is the only national physical-activity based positive youth development (PA-PYD) program for girls with compelling evidence of program impact.”

In 2016, Dr. Maureen Weiss, a University of Minnesota professor, conducted an independent study on the unique curriculum of Girls on the Run, finding that the program was overwhelmingly successful in educating and enriching their students.

More than 97 percent of the girls showed improved development in a litany of life skills, including “making intentional decisions, managing emotions, resolving conflict or helping others – that they were using at home, at school and with their friends.”

Girls on the Run has put a majority of its focus as an organization on increasing the amount of physical activity and discipline in its students’ lives.

“The [Weiss] study found that the physical activity aspects of our program also work, especially for girls who begin with lower physical activity levels,” Dougherty said. “In fact, girls who were the least active at the start of the season increased their physical activity level by 40% and maintained this increased level beyond season’s end. We are moving the needle on girls’ holistic health, and giving them the tools they need to be the joyful, confident women they can grow up to be.”

The communities that Girls on the Run Atlanta serve — Cobb, Fulton, Gwinnett and Dekalb counties — are seeing a beneficial impact on their children.

This year’s 5K race saw nearly 1,500 volunteers and over 400 volunteer coaches from the local and metropolitan communities show support. Everyone involved could see how much the race and Girls on the Run have become an influential part of the lives of local citizens.

“None of our girls were runners before Girls on the Run, and it’s amazing seeing their growth,” Jackie Mancini, teacher at Fair Oaks Elementary and Girls on the Run Atlanta coach, said. “One thing that I noticed at the mock 5K is that they were still talking about the lessons and having informal conversations. They take the empathy lesson seriously and say, ‘You know I had to put myself in his shoes.’ They take what we learn at Girls on the Run and apply it to their everyday lives. They even wanted to do extra laps during the mock 5K!”

Girls on the Run Atlanta is extremely grateful that it was able to hold the 5K in Georgia State’s neighborhood and that Georgia State was present the entire time.

“Prior to holding the Girls on the Run 5K presented by Piedmont Healthcare at Georgia State, we held the run at Turner Field,” Dougherty said. “With easy access to parking, a beautiful route through historic Grant Park and a wide open space for our 5K festival, it’s a great venue. We have enjoyed working with Georgia State Athletics and like the influence of a college setting for our participants so they can see one of the many world-class universities Atlanta has to offer.”

Girls on the Run partnered with a multitude of sponsors in Atlanta to create the best positive experience possible.

“We are grateful to many sponsors and partners who helped to create a fun and memorable event for our participants and their families on race morning,” Dougherty said. “At the 5K festival, runners and spectators could take advantage of the Piedmont Healthcare stretch and recovery zone, a homemade button station by Sprouts, samples and giveaways from KIND, RX Bar, Honest Tea, Phidippides, Cigna, Go Go squeeZ and Axiom, a glitter and flash tat station hosted by Gamma Phi Beta of Kennesaw University and much more.”

Despite the frigid temperatures, the environment around Georgia State Stadium was warm and inviting as volunteers and parents happily dedicated their Saturday morning to the children.