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Runners’ faces gleamed with joy as they crossed the finish line at another successful Girls on the Run 5K May 4.

Girls on the Run, an international organization, has reached more than 1.5 million girls since its inception, and is on track to reach more than 2 million by 2021.

It is known as a physical-activity-based positive youth-development program that inspires third- through eighth-grade girls to be joyful, healthy and confident, using a fun, experience-based curriculum that integrates running.

“I always tell the girls that they are a part of a huge GOTR family. ‘Once a GOTR Girl, Always a GOTR Girl,’” said Ashley Novak, council director of Girls on the Run of Volusia County. “I want each participant and coach to know they are accepted just the way they are, and they are part of something much bigger than themselves. This is a loving and empowering community where everyone is welcomed. The finish line is only the beginning.”

Novak is truly immersed in the success of the program, and can be found training the coaches, developing programs, writing grants and raising money so that GOTR can remain a sustainable organization.

She also focuses on speaking to community organizations about the program, connecting with principals and guidance counselors to develop new sites for programming, and providing reports to Girls on the Run International to ensure compliance with the national organization.

This season, 157 girls from 13 teams participated in the organization’s annual 5K, wearing glowing green and pink T-shirts identifying their unity.

Participating this season are GOTR teams from Orange City, Citrus Grove, Forest Lake, Sunrise, Palm Terrace, Osceola, Pathways and Tomoka elementary schools, as well as Edgewater Public School and Burns Science and Technology Charter School, along with Heart & Sole teams from Southwestern and River Springs middle schools, and Burns Science and Technology Charter School.

Heart & Sole is the curriculum the group uses for middle-schoolers in sixth through eighth grades.

“Girls on the Run is an amazing program that helps girls learn to be themselves. I have enjoyed coaching for eight years! Each year, the girls continue to amaze me with their emotional growth,” said Holly Hancock, a longtime coach at Orange City Elementary School. “The introvert comes out of her shell. The girl that didn’t smile ends up having the brightest and most contagious smile on the track when she crosses the finish line of the 5K!”

Hancock’s experiences fit with GOTR’s mission: “We envision a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams.”

On May 4, the participants included teams that had programs this past spring season, along with “Run Buddies,” including coaches from each school, principals, community leaders, volunteers and sponsors. Some ran with the girls, and some were great cheerleaders on the sidelines.

Sheriff Mike Chitwood, DeLand Mayor Robert Apgar and Orange City Mayor Gary Blair began the day with fellow volunteers by participating in warmup exercises with the teams.

“Girls on the Run is very accepting no matter how different you are. They accept you no matter what your race is, and they even accept you no matter your size or shape. For those very reasons, I love Girls on the Run,” said Myah Miller, a fifth-grade student at Citrus Grove Elementary School in DeLand. “They teach you to love yourself and your community. I just love it so much, and it’s a joy to be a part of Girls on the Run.”

For more information, email Novak at ashley.novak@girlsontherun.org.

— Cameron, a longtime educator, lives in Orange City. Send email to cameronchronicleslive@gmail.com.


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