By Jenna Marina
ORLANDO, Fla. (May 2, 2017) – When hundreds of elementary school aged runners crossed the finish line at Saturday’s Run for the Trees Jeannette Genius McKean Memorial 5k presented by Track Shack and held in Winter Park, some of their biggest cheerleaders were their coaches – all UCF alumnae who are also educators from Orange or Seminole county public schools.
Over the last two and a half years, at least 26 alumnae have been involved in coaching Girls on the Run teams, according to the organization’s research. Eight of those coaches were involved in the spring 2017 season that culminated in Saturday’s race.
“Having UCF here in Orlando and UCF graduates as part of team of volunteers helps us honor one of our core values – finding strength in our connectedness,” said Karen Allen, executive director of Orlando’s Girls on the Run. “Our girls are making meaningful connections with UCF alumni who make positive contributions in the girls’ lives. We want girls to be familiar with our local university because it might be part of their pathway to fulfilling their limitless potential.”
Girls on the Run was established in 1996 in Charlotte, North Carolina. With the help of over 55,000 volunteers, the Girls on the Run program is now serving over 130,000 girls in more than 200 cities across North America each year, according to its website.
Meeting twice a week, teams of an average 15 members are taught life skills through dynamic, interactive lessons and running games. The lessons and physical activity are used to inspire and motivate girls, encourage lifelong health and fitness and build self-confidence.
Katie Heriot ’16 and Heidi Bedrossian ’06 ’09MEd, who are both language arts teachers at Oviedo’s Stenstrom Elementary, said they weren’t really sure what to expect before starting the program and thought that mustering motivation to run would be their biggest hurdle with their team. Their experience has been quite the opposite.
“I think they turned it into something really cool. They’ve taken it and made it fun,” Heriot said. “It’s really hard to be confident as a girl, and at this age, it’s awkward and a lot of them are going through it by themselves. It’s been really cool to see how they’ve developed as a person and found their voice.”
Topics include dealing with self-image and the media, resisting peer-pressure, making healthy decisions and contributing to the community.
Fifth-grader Alexandria Geremiah, 11, enjoyed running with her dad prior to joining the Dover Shores Elementary team with her friends. She said being part of the program has fostered her passion for running, and she tries to live by what she has learned from her weekly practices.
“Gossiping doesn’t help anybody. Being a bully is just letting off your steam on other people. Commercials are not always about making you pretty or the real thing. They can be fake,” she said.
Geremiah’s coach, Jessica Richards, graduated from UCF in 2002 and knew she wanted to start a Girls on the Run program at her school when she saw the organization’s booth as a runner in a local race.
She is already looking forward to the fall 2017 season’s 5K because it will be held at her alma mater on Dec. 9.
Richards said that she loves the strong sense of community she feels by working and living in the city where she graduated from college and tries to instill the importance of education not only with her Girls on the Run team, but also in her classroom.
“I have UCF stuff all over my classroom, and I’m always promoting the idea that college starts at kindergarten. Everything you do, even in elementary school, is leading you to college and to more choices in your life,” she said. “I work at a Title I school, so we have a lot of kids whose parents haven’t gone to college, and I try to stress to them that education is the key to turning their passions into careers and possibilities for the future. That can happen with Girls on the Run, too, getting that confidence and seeing the importance of making your way toward college.”