Girls running the distance

Allison Stephens

Photo By Larry Dalton

Girls on the Run began seven years ago with a mere 13 girls in Charlotte, N.C. Program founder Molly Barker saw preadolescent girls being placed in what she called the “girl box,” a metaphorical box preventing girls from discovering their potential. Determined to help girls climb out of the girl box, Barker developed Girls on the Run, an after-school running program. The goal of the program was to provide young girls with the tools necessary for developing a sense of self-respect, a positive body image and the ability to make healthy decisions. Today, more than 20,000 girls are participating in Girls on the Run programs across the United States. Allison Stephens (shown above with program participants), a coach for the Sacramento chapter of Girls on the Run, has put on her running shoes and is doing her part to help young girls escape the girl box. To learn more about the program, go to

Tell me about the Girls on the Run program.

Girls on the Run is about promoting little girls, giving them a sense of identity and a sense of who they are, and we use running and athletics to do that. It’s fourth, fifth and sixth grades here in Sacramento. We’re at two different schools, and we are going to be at four schools this spring. Fall was the first of our sessions, and we had 10 girls at each of our schools and 20 girls total. I was a coach at one of the schools. So, what we do is, it’s a 12-week program, and we meet two afternoons a week for one hour of practice, and through those 24 sessions, we train to run a race at the end. And there is a Girls on the Run curriculum that the girls go through.

What does the curriculum involve?

The first third of it is about who the girls are as individuals; the second third is about who they are as a team and what being a team member means. We talk about gossiping and listening and making good decisions and standing up for yourself. The third part is about community, and here we decide to do a community-service project. The girls get to form that project and be involved in it. And then, finally, is the race. This past fall, we did the kids’ run of the California International Marathon. So, we did it right in downtown Sacramento. All these girls, the two schools we picked this fall, are in pretty rough areas, and it was the first chance that they’ve had to be in an organized athletic program and to be a part of a team. It was really neat to see them warm up to that idea and then really be a team by the time we got to the race.

How were the schools’ sites chosen for the Girls on the Run program?

Just through random connections. One of my really good friends teaches at the school that I coached at, and so she got us in there. And another coach had a connection at the other school. So, for this first go-around, it was just through connections. The other school that we added this time we got when a woman contacted us and said, “I’m interested in Girls on the Run. I teach at this school, and I’d like to do it.” So, she is starting it at her school. And then I have a couple of coaches that I am trying to find a school for right now. So, I am going out and actually trying to get a school to donate their facilities.

How did you get involved with Girls on the Run?

I have a friend who works at [the University of North Carolina, Charlotte], and she was a coach for the Girls on the Run program there, and she talked to me about it. My goal was to just try to find an existing Girls on the Run program in Sacramento and be a coach, and what I found was a Girls on the Run chapter trying to start. And so, I’ve been involved in the founding of the chapter here. I got in way deeper than just coaching, but that’s been cool.

What do you get out of working with the program?

Well, I guess the biggest thing for me is just seeing the girls light up. There are several girls who started the program—either they were the little sister of another girl in the program, or they were the tomboy, or they were the quiet girl in the class or the nerd—and to just see them light up into this confident person has been great.

Any plans for a Boys on the Run program?

Well, actually, Boys on the Run is being developed right now. It’s in the curriculum-development stages and will be implemented in the spring of 2005. It’ll be cool because, now, as we gather on the playground after school, boys are always coming by, pretending to be girls. They’re like, "I’m a girl. Can I be in Girls on the Run?" And so, they’re always asking, "Is there a Boys on the Run?"