gotrby Alicia Dziak

Life for girls in 2013 is a lot different from life for girls in the past. Girls today lead fast-paced lives filled with hectic schedules and peer pressure. Finding outlets to decompress and just be themselves can be tough, not to mention finding the time to stay fit while facing the everyday challenges of pre-adolescence.

Girls on the Run (GOTR) is a program for girls in third through eighth grades that combines training for a 5K running event with healthy living education. The program is broken down into Girls on the Run (third through fifth grades) and Girls on Track (sixth through eighth grades).

“Research shows that around fourth grade is when self-esteem plummets in girls, and between fourth and fifth grades is when girls are most likely to drop out of organized sports,” said Katie Joyce, GOTR council director. “This program addresses these issues at an age where it can make a big difference to these girls.”

The mission of GOTR is to instill self-esteem through health education, life skills development, mentoring relationships, and physical training — all of which are accomplished through an active collaboration with girls and their parents, schools, volunteers, staff and the community.

Joyce and her “running buddy” Meghan Cavanaugh had heard about the success of GOTR, a national program, from friends and family living in other states.

“I wanted to start a program at my daughter’s school, but since there was no council yet in Western New York, we had to start that first,” Joyce said.

The two friends went through the lengthy process of establishing the Buffalo Girls on the Run Council in the fall of 2010.

“At that time, we had three schools participating,” Joyce explained. “Now we have close to 70 sites, and almost 1,000 girls participating.”

Coaches follow a detailed curriculum that addresses topics like self-esteem, bullying, peer pressure and being a good friend.

“Girls on the Run is a fun way to exercise while learning about different ways to handle problems my friends and I face in fourth grade,” said Ava D., 9, of Springville, who is participating in GOTR for the second time.

Springville Elementary School’s Girls on the Run program was started in the fall of 2012 by Michelle Solly, a physical education teacher at Springville Elementary School.

“When I found out what this program was about, I knew it would be a perfect fit for our school,” said Solly. “I truly feel that this program has been a huge success here at SES. It has been so much fun seeing all the girls’ self-confidence increase and realizing that running can be fun!”

GOTR  programs are run in the fall (from September to November) and spring (from March to June), meeting twice a week, and culminate with a 5K, where the girls show off their decorated GOTR T-shirts and get hair sprayed in funky colors. Teams can be seen wearing tutus or matching hair accessories and enjoying each other’s company.

The 5K event is not a competition among runners, but emphasizes each girl doing their personal best. In fact, every girl’s race number is the same — #1. The sense of accomplishment on each girl’s face as she crosses the finish line and receives her GOTR medal is rewarding and unforgettable.

Although there is a cost to those participating in the program, financial aid is available.

“About 38 percent of our girls receive aid of some kind,” said Joyce. “We also have 22 schools that are fully funded by the program.”

GOTR also provides sneakers to girls who are in need.

“In most sports, if you can’t afford the equipment to play, you can’t play,” said Joyce. “In Girls on the Run, our goal is to reach out to all girls and give them an opportunity to participate in an organized exercise program, regardless of their financial situation.”

Aid is raised through grants and various fundraisers.

The biggest fundraiser for GOTR is the upcoming 5K to be held on June 2 at UB’s North Campus. The race is open to the public and is a great way to witness the positive affect GOTR has had on young girls in our community. To register for the run, visit

New sites wishing to start GOTR for fall 2013 must be reserved by August 1, although reserving them before school lets out for the summer is preferred, so that GOTR can provide marketing materials for the girls at that site.

“We currently have programs in all eight counties in Western New York, and would love to expand to more schools in the southern tier,” Joyce said.

Anyone interested in starting a GOTR program at a school or community center can visit or contact Katie Joyce at (716) 400-1019 or email

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