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Graham Mesa Elementary girls run for self improvement and health

From left, four grader Kaci Jones, third grader Jordan White and third grader Jessica Sullivent are excited as they started their practice run.
Mike McKibbin/Citizen Telegram |

Girls on the Run

at a glance

Demographics:

• Girls in third-eighth grade and their families

• Adult program facilitators, coaches, running buddies and volunteers serve as positive role models for the girls.

• Girls on the Run Western Colorado founded in 2000 in Grand Junction. Now serving 16 counties in Western Colorado and Eastern Utah in 2013.

• Grew from two sites and 40 participants in 2000 to 90 sites and 2,344 participants in 2013.

• More than 450 volunteers involved.

• Registration fee of $50. Cost to deliver the program is $100 per participant (national average is $165).

• Over 40 percent of program participants received scholarship funding in 2013 ($10 reduced fee or full scholarship).

• 3 Girls on the Run 5K events with more than 3,900 participants in 2013.

Girls on the Run International:

• Founded in 1996 in Charlotte, N.C.

• From three councils and 200 participants in 1998 to 213 councils in 47 states and Canada and over 139,000 participants in 2013.

• More than 59,000 volunteers involved.

• 39 percent of program participants received scholarship funding in 2012.

• 253 Girls on the Run 5K events with more than 214,000 participants in 2012.

Source: Girls on the Run

A bright blue sky on a warm spring day greeted the 40 third and fourth grade girls at Graham Mesa Elementary School in Rifle as they ran and walked up and down a paved path, preparing for a 5-kilometer run against more than one thousand other girls.

“I did it last year,” said fourth-grader Sage Allen after the Thursday, April 17, practice that included a run/walk of around a mile and a half. “We’ve probably run five 5K’s so far this year, so I’m ready for it this year.”

Allen and the other Graham Mesa girls have been taking part in the Girls on the Run after-school program, which uses running to help prepare girls for a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living, according to a news release. Through interactive activities, such as running, playing games and discussing important issues, participants learn how to focus on building self-esteem and improving emotional and physical health. The program wraps up with end-of-season awards and celebrations.



Girls on the Run of Western Colorado will finish its 14th season with an annual fun, non-competitive, 5K (3.1 mile) run on Saturday, May 3, at Long Family Park in Grand Junction. More than 1,500 third through eighth grade girls and their families will participate.

The 10-week program has been held this spring at schools in Western Garfield, Mesa, Delta and Montrose counties, as well as Grand County, Utah. In Garfield School District Re-2 and Garfield County School District 16, which includes New Castle, Silt, Rifle, Parachute and Battlement Mesa, 280 students are taking part this year, up from 253 last school year.



The program is delivered by over 450 trained volunteer women coaches, including 57 teachers at schools in the Re-2 and 16 districts. More than 20 “Running Buddies” also help by going to practices and encouraging the girls. Coaches teach specific life lessons, such as dealing with body image and the media, resisting peer pressure, making healthy decisions and contributing to the community, which was the lesson at Graham Mesa on Thursday. The curriculum calls for a community service project to be completed by each team.

The girls gathered in a large circle on the floor of the gym to discuss what makes a community, then were broken up into smaller groups to come up with a list of important things they could do to help the Rifle community and where they would go to accomplish that task.

Pilar Saucedo, a third grader at Graham Mesa, said she liked the exercise, running and other activities. She was “kind of scared” about the upcoming 5K.

“My legs are kind of sore,” she said after the practice run.

Ariel Isais, another third grader, said the program helped her “make a lot of new friends.”

“I met some fourth graders that I don’t see that much” during the school day, Isais added.

She described herself as “just nervous” about the 5K.

Third grader Zulma Hernandez said she learned “how to not be a bully.”

“And we played games,” she added.

Fourth grader Leila Bertsch also said she liked meeting new friends and was “very excited” about the 5K run.

Scholarships are available to participants who cannot afford the participation fee, and over 40 percent of the program participants are on scholarship, according to the news release. No girl is turned away due to financial restrictions and businesses and community organizations help fund the program as well.

Program board member Angela Aibner Strode of Rifle also wrote in an email that every year, the girls conduct a pledge drive called the “Run Raiser.” Close to $2,800 was raised through this year’s pledge drive, along with $5,500 in the fall 2013 drive, she reported. Last school year, the total raised was more than $11,300, Strode wrote.

“My fellow board member, Lisa Nieslanik, and I also put on a fundraiser in January called ‘30 in 30,’ where participants take a challenge to walk or run 30 miles in the first 30 days of the year and get others to sponsor them on a per-mile basis,” she wrote. “This year, we raised over $1,500 through the 30 in 30. This is not something the girls usually participate in, but rather other people that Lisa and I recruit.”

Strode also noted local support from Grand River Health, Columbine Ford, River Valley Survey, Bookcliff Survey, Alpine Bank and others.


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