During the pandemic, I missed working with kids, so this spring, I registered as a volunteer coach for Girls on the Run (GOTR). An afterschool program for girls in grades 3-5, GOTR “inspires girls to be joyful, healthy, and confident.” Throughout the season, girls meet twice weekly, growing social-emotional skills and working towards completing a 5K.
After deciding to coach, I learned that GOTR had developed a virtual model of its curriculum during the pandemic. I immediately thought about the smallest outer island and rural schools, where students have few opportunities for team activities due to tiny student populations.
I reached out to teachers, parents, and community members in small communities along the coast, and within a few weeks, we had five girls registered for our Virtual Islands GOTR team. They hailed from Cliff Island, Isle au Haut, Deer Isle, and Little Deer Isle.
How would a virtual running club work? GOTR Maine mailed journals to each girl…
Chloe on Cliff, for example, is one of three students in her K-5 school. Joining our GOTR team, she experienced a different social environment with four other peers close to her age.
We met on Zoom on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The first week, we got to know our teammates. Three of us have chickens at home! Everyone loves art! We discussed our GOTR goal of completing a 5K in June. Three whole miles?! That sounds like a lot.
How would a virtual running club work? GOTR Maine mailed journals to each girl and offered creative options for movement, rather than focusing strictly on running. We ran in place, did squats and star jumps. We skipped, lunged, and “wacky danced” to music. All of these physical exercises were sprinkled throughout lessons on positive self-talk, inner beauty, and showing empathy.
After practice, girls continued their workouts individually, building from 10 minutes the first day to 45-plus by the end of the season. Girls logged whether they rode a bike, hiked, chased their chickens, or ran down the road to their grandma’s house.
One day mid-season, I received an email from Chloe’s dad, saying she would be absent due to a dentist appointment on the mainland: “She’s bummed [to miss practice], but we will do and log her workout. I know she is shy, but she really does look forward to these meetings.”
Chloe may have been shy, but she was engaged: listening attentively to teammates, writing in her GOTR journal, enthusiastically participating in physical exercises.
Throughout the season, the girls embraced warm-up games, showed us their power poses, and shouted cheers to conclude each practice, despite the time-lag on Zoom. These provided silliness, camaraderie, and fun to our virtual team.
By early June, all the girls completed their 5Ks in their respective communities. Each girl ran with a running buddy, and my co-coach and I visited the islands, bringing encouraging signs, chalking the roads, and meeting with girls in person.
Before meeting with the Deer Isle girls, I ran with Gianna and her mom on Isle au Haut. Familiar faces and strangers alike had seen the 5K posters, cheering as we ran past the ferry landing and the Acadia National Park Ranger Station.
GOTR emphasizes personal goal-setting and positive self-talk. “Keep moving forward” when you are tired. Walk for a while to rest, tell yourself some encouraging words, and keep going.
I asked the girls what the best part was about the 5K day. Chloe shared “getting my medal” after finishing the 3.1 mile run was a highlight. Nine-year-old Claire explained, “It wasn’t a real race so it didn’t matter if I didn’t win. The easiest thing was having a running buddy.”
Kennedy, also 9, agreed. Even though the 5K “was long and my legs hurt,” the drink table and running buddy made it easier. Maeve, 10, practiced one of her GOTR skills during the 5K. She recalls, “I was able to use positive self-talk” while running, which helped her to keep going.
Reflecting on the season as a whole, girls shared favorite memories including silly warm-up games, our team’s love of chickens, and our super-strong power poses. I am grateful for this fun, empowering season with our Virtual Islands GOTR Team.
Girls on the Run Maine is currently seeking sites for fall 2021 teams. Visit www.girlsontherunmaine.org for more information.