Academy of the Sacred Heart fourth grader Caroline Nusloch sums up her love for running like this: “It’s my race, my pace.”
“When I started running, I would try to run as fast as I could,” Caroline said, “but then I realized that my pace didn’t matter – as long as I finished!”
Positive attitudes like Caroline’s are the norm among the 26 Sacred Heart third, fourth and fifth graders who participate in “Girls on the Run,” an optional afterschool program that uses the power of running to prepare girls for a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living. While the program has participants running and walking laps around their school’s Mater Campus in preparation for a 5-K race scheduled for this coming May, its main thrust is girls’ emotional health.
“(Running) is such a healthy, well endowed coping mechanism,” said Hilary Landry, the Sacred Heart parent who volunteers as the school’s Girls on the Run liaison.
“Anyone can (run),” Landry said. “You don’t have to be fast. You don’t have to excel. It’s a great opportunity for you to engage and socialize with women, and it’s also a great opportunity to be by yourself, while staying physically and mentally healthy.”
The twice-a-week sessions, led by Landry and four trained volunteer coaches, begin with a 20-minute, age-appropriate discussion of a health topic, followed by 30 minutes of running. Recent topics have focused on positive self-talk, the use of visualization to achieve goals, and nutritional health, including the importance of limiting the intake of processed foods.
The goal is for each girl to build the stamina to run two miles – or eight laps around Sacred Heart’s Mater Campus. During their March 6 run, the young participants played “Emotional Bingo,” with each runner taking a few seconds to explain times they felt a particular emotion – from calm to frustration – to coaches standing at each corner of their laps around campus. After the run, the girls cooled down by chanting group cheers and nominated the day’s “Spirit Award” winner – who on March 6 was the determined girl who didn’t let a broken arm stop her from running.
“I like that we talk about (negative peer pressure) and having a good self-image. If you’re getting bullied you have to stand up for yourself,” said Audrey Lemann, a fourth grader. “I like running because you can have fun while you’re exercising, and it’s good for you,” she added. “I used to take more walking breaks, but now I run much faster and I don’t take as many breaks.”
Third grader Izabella Erazo-Pierson said she was “running in the footsteps” of her mother, a runner who is currently sidelined with a broken foot.
“Running makes me feel like I can do anything,” Izabella said. “I think about running as hard as I can – so I can be as good as my mom.”
Girls on the Run of New Orleans, now in its second year, is part of the nonprofit Girls on the Run International, which has a network of more than 160 locations across the United States and Canada. For more information, go to www.girlsontherun.org.