#TGW: Spring Breakthrough

April 23, 2014

By Jon Cooper
The Good Word

Paramount among the goals of the Girls On the Run program is increasing school-age girls’ self-esteem, to the point that they’ll aspire to make it to college. From there, who knows? They might attend a prestigious university, like Georgia Tech, and even represent one of its athletic teams.

Hayley Keadey heard that growing up.

An Atlanta native who began running at age seven and ran in a Girls On the Run race while in elementary school, Keadey is completing her first season with the Yellow Jackets track team, having also run cross country during the fall.

“I was a little sixth-grade girl just starting track and I just remember my mom used to tell me, ‘Someday you may be there.’ I totally didn’t believe her,” she recalled. “It was really cool to be able to see these college runners and see them being excited about it and congratulating me on my race. It was a lot of fun. I just remember loving seeing the Georgia Tech girls there.”

“I know I definitely struggled with my share of issues with self-esteem,” she added. “I think Girls On the Run portrays running in the sort of way, ‘I love to run to have fun and be fit.’ That’s definitely important.”

On Saturday, participants in Girls On the Run will get to see the entire Georgia Tech campus as the school will host the 2014 Spring 5K, a sort of final exam for the 12-week program that combines the benefits of running and physical fitness with a curriculum of self-confidence, anti-bullying and healthy living.

The 5K race (3.1 miles) begins at 8:00 a.m. on Ferst St., in front of the Campus Recreation Center, and makes a loop of the campus, finishing there as well. There is a cap of 3,000 participants — an estimate of nearly 2,700 already had registered as of Wednesday morning. (Go to http://girlsontherunatlanta.org/gotr-5k/5k-sponsors/ for registration information.).

Keadey has become a shining example for the current girls and a benchmark for how far the program has come in the 12 years since its inception in Atlanta (the first GOTR program was founded in Charlotte, N.C., in 1996).

“When we first introduced this program seven years ago, I had to go back and explain what it is and the mission,” said Leah Thomas, Georgia Tech’s Director Of Total Person Support Services, who served as race coordinator and liaison with GOTR. “Hayley’s probably the first one that has come through and this is the first year that we’ve had student-athletes that have had exposure themselves as a child.

They already know what it did for them in their lives and it’s very easy for them to, in return, get involved and encourage now that they’re at this level. “

“It’s not the only reason that she’s a collegiate runner — and she’s a very good one at that — but it certainly had an impact in her life,” Thomas added. “It’s going to happen more and more that we have girls who were involved in this. We’re going to have all kinds of athletes, not just runners, who were exposed to it as a child and had a positive impact on their lives. It’s been fun to see that coming and now it’s finally here.”

“To have knowledge that one of our former participants took what she learned, that health and wellness and commitment to running, and is able to compete at the collegiate level is just really inspiring and we’re just so pleased,” added Lea Rolfes, executive director for the Atlanta chapter of Girls On the Run. “The story just kept getting better when we learned that a Georgia Tech athlete was a former participant. “

Keadey, whose younger sister also began running at age seven and has run in several GOTR events, won’t be at the race, as she’ll be competing for Georgia Tech in the 10,000 meters at the prestigious Penn Relays, but she is proud to have participated as an instructor and is proud of Georgia Tech for its role in putting on the race.

“We’re definitely involved in it and we all love it,” she said. “So many college campuses are so closed off and it’s kind of in a college town. Not that Georgia Tech’s not, but we definitely have an opportunity to reach out and do a lot more community work than most colleges. I think we do a really good job of taking advantage of that.”

While Keadey will not be around, Georgia Tech will still have plenty of representation from its athletic teams at the event.

“I can tell you that any team that is here that morning but isn’t competing, will be there on some level, including some of our male teams,” said Thomas. “If not actually working setting up stuff, they’ll be setting up cheer zones throughout the course. So we should have a really good representation of student-athletes.”

Thomas has been on board with the cause from Day One and is proud of the way the school stepped up when word got out that GOTR needed a host for this year’s event.

“Girls On The Run has become close to my heart, as a former runner and then having two daughters that one day I would like to grow up and be a part of this program,” she said. “It’s something I’ve grown to care a lot about and love and am happy to get our student-athletes as involved in a great program like this as much as possible.”

Rolfes credits Georgia Tech for coming through as the event blew up beyond her wildest expectations.

“Our relationship with them has grown over the years and meanwhile our organization has been growing to where we grew out of our location for our Spring 5K,” she said. “We were sort of scrambling, wondering where we were going to move this race because you can imagine a race with more than 1,200 children, safety and just a good event experience are most important. I reached out to a lot of our partners and asked if they had any ideas and the folks at Georgia Tech said, ‘Why don’t we do it here?’

“It’s great to have an extension of the partnership and it’s also an amazing opportunity for our girls to be on a college campus, to see all these role models that have come visit them sort of on their turf and kind of envision what their future looks like if they are considering going to college,” she added.
“Everyone has been so welcoming and they seem genuinely excited to have the race on campus. It’s been wonderful. Everybody has been so positive. We’re really excited about it.”

For more information, including race registration information visit http://girlsontherunatlanta.org/.

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