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Outdoors & Recreation
Girls on the Run
Program helps young women get involved in exercise
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Photo by BRIAN GOFF
Eight Belleair-area girls celebrated the completion of the 12 week Girls on the Run program. They are, from left, Kaley Love, Sophia Cavallaro, Alexandria Hicks, Suzy Doletzky, Cynthia Clark, Katie Kiesel, Lanie Watson and Tori Epperson.
BELLEAIR – There is a new program in town, and the smiles on the faces of the girls involved indicate it must have been a success. The program is called Girls on the Run and it is an international nonprofit organization designed to get young women involved in physical activity.

Belleair resident Jennifer Riley, 48, said while the program is geared to getting girls running and engaged in physical activity, it is about more than that.

“It is about inspiring girls to be joyful, healthful and confident,” she said. “It is not all about running but it does integrate running into the program.”

Girls on the Run was started in 1996 in North Carolina by Molly Barker, a four-time Ironman triathlete who wanted to find a way to make girls more self-confident and less dependent on looks or behavior. Now, hundreds of girls throughout the United States and Canada are involved in the program.

Riley moved to Belleair 18 months ago from Virginia Beach. She was familiar with the program there and discovered there wasn’t one in Pinellas County, although there was one in Tampa. She contacted that chapter, trained and got certified as a Girls on the Run coach and began looking for a place to start the group in Pinellas County.

“Once I got certified as a coach I needed a site,” she said. “I was looking for a school that might be interested in hosting us but then my Realtor told me of the Belleair Rec. They were interested and that’s how we got started.”

Riley got eight Belleair-area girls enrolled in the first 12-week program, which just concluded on May 3 with a 5K race. The program is for girls from the third to the fifth grade and by all accounts the first effort was a successful one.

“It went really well,” said Riley. “The girls really did well as far as running was concerned and they enjoyed the program.”

Those smiles on the faces of the girls were seen at their wrap-up party at the Belleair Town Hall on May 1. The girls and their parents gathered for one last get-together before the 5K race two days later. They were enjoying pizza and other goodies with their parents who also were pleased with the program.

Barbara Love of Belleair, whose daughter Kaley is enrolled in the program, calls it a fantastic experience.

“The coaches have been wonderful,” she said. “It has taught the girls that they can have goals and they can accomplish them. It makes them confident and happy and gives them a sense of community and that is good.”

Belleair Bluffs resident Rebecca Cavallaro said her daughter Sophia is used to getting involved in sports as a soccer player, but she never took part in running.

“She always wanted to run a 5K,” she said. “This program has given her the encouragement to do it and the fact that there are other activities is an added bonus.”

Cavallaro lamented the fact that Sophia will be too old for the program next year.

“We would come back if we could,” she said.

Riley said while running is a major part of the program, there is much more than that to Girls on the Run.

“Each week there are lessons and exercises and activities that incorporate running,” she said.

Those extra activities are what attracted Heath Watson of Largo and his daughter, Lanie, 10.

“This is terrific because it gets them out into the community,” he said. “It helps them form relationships and will help them in the future. It is good for their physical well-being and also their mental and emotional well-being.”

All the parents were pleased that their daughters were able to run a 5K race, something most of them never thought they could do. Riley said going into Saturday’s 5K race the girls knew they could finish it.

“We did a practice 5K and they were so proud of themselves,” she said. “They all completed the 5K, they really worked hard and they had fun doing it.”

The next 12-week Girls on the Run program will be held in the fall at the Belleair Rec Center. The cost of enrollment is $150, but Riley said no one will be turned away. For those who cannot afford it a sponsor will be found. Riley said the company she works for, Creative Training, a fitness equipment company, has been generous in helping some of the participants.

As for her first 12-week session, which is behind her now, Riley said she’s glad she did it.

“My assistant coaches and I have been inspired by the girls. Just watching them participate, they are running,” she said enthusiastically. “Knowing they can set a goal and really reach it; that is part of the program, just being around people running.”
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