by Moira Cullings
PAOLA — Some people go their entire lives trying to avoid what they consider the worst form of physical punishment: running.
Finding excuses to get out of running is a tradition passed down from generation to generation, to every gym class and sports team that dreads hearing the words “get on the line” or “meet at the track.”
But not for the girls at Holy Trinity School in Paola.
Every third- through sixth-grade girl who is able has tackled the challenge of running head-on as part of a program called Girls on the Run.
The 10-week, nationwide program concludes with a 5K run at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, on Nov. 21. There, over 3,000 participants from all over the Kansas City area are expected to attend. But the program is designed not only to challenge the girls physically, but also to teach them life lessons along the way.
“It’s made me feel better about myself,” said Emery Everhart, one of the sixth-graders in the program.
Her favorite part about the training, she said, is “probably being able to challenge myself to run harder.”
The girls meet under the direction of six coaches for a couple of hours two nights a week. Each meeting starts with a healthy snack and a discussion of a variety of topics, such as bullying, peer pressure and positive decision- making.
“Finding your inner strength, as well as making sure everybody is feeling confident about themselves, and encouraging others to be confident about themselves” are some of the lessons Ruth Everhart, the program’s assistant coach, hopes to instill in the girls.
“I think my biggest thing is also establishing stronger friendships across the board — everybody getting along, no matter where you come from or who you are,” said Everhart.
The effort is paying off: Getting to meet new people is Emery’s favorite thing about the program.
Training for the 5K is the second part of the session which, at the beginning, was quite the challenge.
“In the beginning, we weren’t prepared for it,” said Emma Johnson, another sixth-grader in the program.
But the coaches have seen drastic improvement throughout the group.
“We’ve got a couple gals that have really pushed themselves to run,” said Everhart. “In fact, one of them didn’t even want to run [originally].”
Part of the curriculum also includes completing a service project. Since it is fall, the Holy Trinity girls unanimously decided to rake leaves for parishioners in need.
A few of the girls spoke at the parish’s Masses one weekend, asking anyone who needed their yard raked or knew someone who did to let the program know, said Amy Winterscheid, one of the group’s coaches.
“I thought it was pretty cool because we were doing it for those who couldn’t do it for themselves,” said Emma.
Once they were done raking parishioners’ yards, the girls came up with the idea to surprise Father Pete O’Sullivan, Holy Trinity’s pastor, by raking his yard as well.
“The community service project is a great lesson because it gets them out into the community — working and seeing how they can make a difference in the lives of other people,” said Katie Johnson, head coach of the group.
The group’s generous spirit doesn’t end there.
The girls fundraised for items they need for the race and, upon finding out they had money left over, decided to donate to the new stairs that are being built at the church.
“We felt that they could make a donation to the cause and have some ownership and pride in how far their efforts can go,” said Winterscheid.
With the 5K just around the corner, Emma admits to growing increasingly excited about getting it accomplished.
“It’s a big thing,” she said, “and we’re all ready for it.”
Johnson recommends this program to all who are interested in bringing it to their own school.
“The cool thing about it is that we’re really ultimately teaching girls to love their bodies for how God made us,” she said. “And so, it’s a great way for kids to focus on the kind of person they are inside, and not necessarily how they look on the outside.”