Local News

Program inspires girls to run, build confidence

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To a lot of us, running seems like work, or at least exercise. But for a group of girls in Sitka, running is actually pretty fun. They’re part of an after-school program that combines running with learning important life lessons. It’s encouraged one fifth-grader to dream about her future.

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Nikkia Brazell is 10 years old and loves to run.

“It feels really fun and sometimes when you get to run with your friend, you have fun, you get to laugh,” Nikkia said.

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The girls listen to their coach, whom they call Miss Kym, as she explains the day’s lesson about choosing friends who are positive and inclusive. (Photo by Anne Brice/KCAW)

It’s a national program that began in North Carolina in 1996. It was created to inspire girls to be confident and healthy through running.

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On the last day of the 24-lesson program, the girls get new Nike running shoes to wear during the 5K race. (Photo by Anne Brice/KCAW)

Girls on the Run got its start in Sitka five years ago. Every spring, girls in grades three through five meet twice a week at Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School.

Nikka says running with a group of only girls makes her feel safer.

“Boys can, like, push you to the limit, but when girls are there, they don’t push you at all,” Nikkia said. “Like, you know how they throw the ball sometimes at you? Girls don’t do that.”

The ultimate goal of the program is to decrease domestic violence by giving girls tools that help build their self-esteem, making them less likely to become victims later in life.

There are 24 practices and each one teaches a different lesson. It might be how to stop bullying or resist peer pressure. Kym Johns is Nikkia’s coach and is leading today’s lesson.

“One very powerful idea that we are going to talk about today is the power we have to choose our friends,” Kym said.

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Girls on the Run is a national program that began in North Carolina in 1996. It now has 55,000 volunteers across the United States and serves more than 130,000 girls in more than 200 cities. (Photo by Anne Brice/KCAW)

The game encourages girls to choose friends who celebrate who they are just the way they are. Kym reads positive and negative messages, like, “Wow! That report you did was awesome!” or “Oh my gosh, you can do done better than that.”

And depending on the type of message, the girls either run in a circle with a bounce in their step or slowly drag their feet.

At practice, Nikkia is a bit quieter than a lot of the girls. And she says her favorite activity is an introspective one.

“Well, we tried running silently, and it was kinda hard for some girls, but I tried it and I started liking it,” Nikkia said.

She says the exercise gives her quiet time to think about what she wants to do and who she wants to be when she grows up.

“I thought about working as a teacher,” Nikkia said. “Yeah, I also want to learn how to speak Tlingit because I already know the Pledge of Allegiance in Tlingit.”

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Kym Johns is a paraprofessional at Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School. This is first year being a volunteer coach for Girls on the Run, and says she plans to do it again next year. (Photo by Anne Brice/KCAW)

The game encourages girls to choose friends who celebrate who they are just the way they are. Kym reads positive and negative messages, like, “Awesome job” or “You could have done better than that.” Depending on the type of message, the girls either run in a circle with a bounce in their step or slowly drag their feet.

For Nikkia, one exercise stands out among the rest: Silent running. “Well it’s to help think of stuff that might encourage others and you,” she said.

And she says running silently gives her quiet time to think about what she wants to do and who she wants to be. “I thought about being a teacher, and a coach for girls on the run. I also want to learn how to speak Tlingit because I have already learned the Pledge of Allegiance in Tlingit.”

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All of the girls gathered by the Sitka Sound Science Center on Saturday for the 5K race. They had their faces painted and hair sprayed with bright colors before the event to get pumped and show some team spirit. (Photo by Anne Brice/KCAW)

Brian Sparks is a domestic violence prevention specialist at the women’s shelter in town, Sitkans Against Family Violence, or SAFV. He organizes the local branch of the program and says he hopes Girls on the Run will help change social norms on a bigger scale.

“They spread these lessons. Let’s say the not gossiping lesson. Well, okay so now if somebody who’s not in Girls on the Run, you know, starts to gossip, there’s a critical mass of girls who have attended Girls on the Run who don’t accept that behavior anymore,” Brian said.

On a recent Saturday, all the girls’ hard work is put to the test. They’re running a 5K to celebrate the end of the season. They choose running teams and pose for a group photo.

Nikkia ran the 5K last year, and says that even though it was hard, she was proud that she set a goal and she stuck to it.

To learn more about Girls on the Run, visit: http://www.girlsontherun.org/ and for more information about the Sitka branch, go to: http://www.safv.org/girls-on-the-run.html.

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