Girls on the Run gives Hilton Head students tools needed for physical, emotional health

abredeson@islandpacket.comFebruary 9, 2014 

  • GIRLS ON THE RUN

    Girls on the Run of the Lowcountry's 10-week program concludes with a 5K at 8a.m. March 22 at Coligny Beach on Hilton Head Island. Sponsored by Fit Chics Move, the event will be a fundraiser for the girls program. It is open to the public. To be a sponsor or participate in the run, go to www.girlsontherunlowcountry.org or email Shawna Fisher at shawna.fisher@girlsontherun.org.

A group of young girls gathers on a chilly Thursday afternoon at Hilton Head Christian Academy for a little after-school fitness and fun.

They stand in a circle and discuss what it means to be emotionally healthy.

"Thinking good thoughts," one girl shouts.

"Being positive," another chimes in.

"It's OK to not be happy all the time," the leader of the group, Shawna Fisher, says to the girls. "It's good to have emotions."

They talk about various emotions and how it's important to let yourself feel the way you feel.

Then the girls do a warm-up by playing a game that includes running, using it to reinforce their lesson on emotions.

These girls are part of a group called Girls on the Run, a nonprofit organization that uses running as a way to motivate girls to be healthy and confident. It's not about being skinny, though. Fisher, local group's director, says it's about being confident with who you are and making healthy choices.

Girls on the Run of the Lowcountry is one of more than 200 councils of the international organization. The local group is made up of 31 girls and 12 coaches. They gather twice a week at Hilton Head Christian Academy.

The group is open to third- through fifth-grade girls in the Lowcountry; however, registration has closed for this season. The girls are separated into two teams -- one for third-graders and one for fourth- and fifth-graders.

This season's group includes students who attend: Hilton Head Christian Academy, St. Francis Catholic School, Hilton Head Island Elementary School for the Creative Arts and Hilton Head Island Elementary School.

"I like to be with my friends, and I love to exercise so it's fun to do both at the same time," says 11-year-old Kristen. Girls on the Run has a policy against including the girls' last names in the media.

After the warm-up game, the girls play a round of Emotion Bingo. Each time they run a lap, a coach tells them a feeling: angry, happy, sorrowful or peaceful, for example. Once a girl gets enough emotions that line up the right way on a bingo card, she gets "Bingo."

"They're not thinking about running because they're busy with the game," Fisher says with a smile.

The afternoon meetings wind down with a cheer and "energy awards," where the girls get a chance to praise each other.

Grace, 11, said she signed up for Girls on the Run before she broke her foot. She was really disappointed that she wouldn't be able to run. But now she is fine with it. Her fellow runners cheer her on as she walks around the field. They know she's making the best out of a bad situation. And they're happy to support her.

The 10-week program will conclude with the girls running a 5k on March 22 on Coligny Beach on Hilton Head.

The girls say they like learning how to be more confident. They like having fun playing games. They like getting exercise. But mostly, they like the friendships they've made. They like the program because they can be themselves there. The girls are nice and don't make fun of them like some kids at school do.

"It's all about empowering girls," Fisher said. "There's a lot of negative, and there's a lot of things in the media that are going to tell you what you should look like and who you should be. But all those pictures are airbrushed. You can't go by what these people are telling you. ... It's really powerful."

Follow Amy Coyne Bredeson at twitter.com/IPBG_Amy.

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