By Alicia Dziak

Do you know a girl currently in third through eighth grade who would benefit from a program that aims to educate and prepare girls for a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living? If so, starting a Girls on the Run (GOTR) program may be a decision that will create lifelong memories and positive habits for her and for you!

GOTR is a program for girls in grades 3–8 that combines training for a 5K running event with healthy living education. The program is broken down into Girls on the Run (grades 3–5) and Girls on Track (grades 6–8).

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.

The Buffalo Council was started in 2010 by Katie Joyce and her “running buddy” Meghan Cavanaugh, who had heard about the success of Girls on the Run from friends and family living in other states around the country.

“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 and started with only three schools. Today, it has expanded to well over 50 schools in Western New York.

“Word is starting to spread about this wonderful program, and we would love to expand to more schools in Cattaraugus County!” she said.

New schools already signed up to participate this spring are Cattaraugus-Little Valley Middle School, Springville Middle School and Olean City School District.

It’s not too late to start a program at your school! Feb. 1 is the deadline for a new site.

“You don’t need to be a runner to coach, just need a willingness to work with young girls,” Joyce emphasized.

To prepare coaches, they are also required to attend special training in March. Coaches can be teachers, parents or community members.

The days you offer the program are flexible as well.

“Coaches can choose any two days for their program as long as they are not two days in a row to allow the girls a day between running,” explained Joyce. “This spring, the season begins on March 24 and ends with the 5K on June 8 at UB’s North Campus.”

The 5K event is not a competition among runners, but emphasizes each girl doing the best that they can do personally. Each girl receives a medal as she crosses the finish line, and the overwhelming look of pride and accomplishment on each girl’s face is very apparent.

“I had a great experience in Girls on the Run, because it gave me a good workout and I had fun,” said Marie Emerling, 10, of Springville, who participated in GOTR in the fall. “It taught me a lot, too, like how to deal with bullying and how to be a good friend.”

For more information on starting a GOTR program, visit www.gotrbuffalo.org.