Girl power got a whole new meaning in Culpeper on Sunday when about 700 young women gathered at Eastern View High School to foster self-reliance and self-esteem.

Girls on the Run Piedmont, the local chapter of an international organization that began 23 years ago in North Carolina, capped its 2019 season with a 5K run at Cyclone Stadium, ending a 10-week local program offered through schools in Culpeper, Fauquier and Madison counties.

According to its website, GOTR is a nonprofit organization “dedicated to creating a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams.”

Its mission, the site continues, is to “inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running.”

While obviously a healthy addition to the program, the running is secondary to the organization’s larger goals, said GOTR Piedmont Executive Director Kathy Butler Sunday afternoon.

“The running is a metaphor,” Butler said. “It’s really more about the life skills than the running. We want the girls to understand that, through building self-confidence and self-reliance, they can accomplish anything they wish.”

While 282 girls between the ages of 8 and 13 signed up to take the 10-week course at public schools throughout the district this year, Butler estimated that 700 girls and their running buddies turned out for last weekend’s 5K, the initiative’s sixth annual.

“The 10-week program is for girls in grades second through eighth,” Butler said. “The run is for everyone.”

Butler said about 300 girls had signed up for the 5K ahead of time. Another 50 turned out with running partners Saturday to register before the event started.

Butler said there were 18 teams from 16 different schools in Culpeper, Madison and Fauquier counties.

Jessica Whitney, an eighth-grade student from Culpeper Middle School, has been participating in the local program since it began six years ago.

“I get to meet a lot of new people, make a lot of new friends and learn a lot,” Whitney said. “Mind, heart, body, soul and social—that’s the program’s five main focal points.”

The teams meet at their schools twice per week usually, with a little time set aside for running laps during each session to help prepare for the 5K, an event in which everyone participates.

“Getting through the run is kind of the point we’re making during the course—to teach them perseverance, that they can do whatever they set their minds to,” said team coach Martha Clements, a teacher at Waverly Yowell Elementary School in Madison.

“We use running as a way to show them their power comes from them. They build their confidence and their teamwork and communications skills through the weekly lessons, and they learn that, if they can do this, they can do harder things,” Clements said.

“The only person they’re competing with in this is themselves, which I think is a great lesson,” she said. “A lot of girls struggle with confidence and not feeling they’re good enough from a very young age. This program gives every girl of every type a chance to develop her sense of self-worth.”

Clements said she enjoys coaching because it gives her time to work with the students on their personal growth and development.

“There really isn’t much time for that in the classroom anymore,” she said. “And that’s why I teach—to make good humans. We can teach them to read later.”

To help all participants appreciate their achievement Saturday, there were no timers or declared winners at the 5K, which organizers stressed was a run and not a race.

All GOTR students who ran were given a number one to wear on their official 2019 GOTR 5K T-shirts, which they were also given for the event.

All runners were also presented with a medal at the end of the run for their participation. An abundance of bananas, bagels and bottled water for the participants were provided by local sponsors.

By all accounts, Sunday’s event was a success, with plenty of smiles and hugs greeting the young runners and their partners as they crossed the finish line on the track inside Cyclone Stadium.

“I think it went fabulously,” said GOTR 5K Director Tabitha Riley. “Everyone’s crossing the finish line, and it’s not raining.”

Butler said proceeds from the GOTR course registration fees and the 5K registration fees for non-GOTR students who ran are used to provide lesson materials, T-shirts, medals and snacks for the girls, as well as scholarships for those who wish to take the course, but need financial help to attend.

“We offered $13,000 in scholarships for students last year,” Butler said. “About 45 percent of our students receive aid.”

Butler said the program is open to all girls in second through eighth grade. Home-school students and students with special needs are welcome to take the course as well, she said.

Next up for the group will be a week-long day camp to be held this summer at Culpeper Baptist Church, an activity which GOTR Piedmont sponsored last summer and which Butler said was well-received.

Anyone wishing further information about GOTR Piedmont or their programs can contact the office at (540) 296-GOTR, or visit their website at gotrpiedmont.org.

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