April 22, 2015
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
It’s impossible to count all the life-altering, triumphant runs made on Saturday afternoons over the years at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
This Saturday there will be 1,300 more, as the home of Yellow Jackets football for 122 years, will provide the finish line for the annual Girls On The Run 5K.
“This will be the second year to host it on campus but the first year that we start and finish at our stadium,” said Leah Thomas, Director of Total Person Support Services, who helped organize the event on the Tech side and mapped out the course. “The idea of the course finishing inside the stadium, is kind of unprecedented here though not uncommon for races, mainly bigger marathon-type races. That idea just sort of evolved as we talked about it.”
Thomas designed the 3.1-mile course in a way that allows the runners to pass by as many of the sports facilities on the campus as possible. They’ll also see many of the athletes that participate in sports in those facilities. Participation in the event has become a big deal for Georgia Tech athletes over the eight years Georgia Tech has been involved with the event and has evolved from very simple beginnings.
“At the beginning we just went out for their end-of-the-season race in the fall and the spring and just cheered the girls on,” said Thomas. “From that we started during their seasons to go out to their schools and visit them periodically and then show up at their races, to now. The ultimate was last spring, when we actually hosted their end-of-the-season race on campus.”
“I think Girls on the Run is a really cool event that we do,” said redshirt junior A-Back Isiah Willis, one six SAAB reps on the football team, who actually has had the opportunity to run inside of Bobby Dodd Stadium. “It’s going to be run throughout the campus this year, which makes it really cool and it ends in the stadium. Just getting out there and seeing all those girls, they look up to us as almost a superhero-type deal. It’s really cool to see the smiles on their faces.”
Girls On The Run began in Charlotte, N.C., in 1996, with the Atlanta chapter of the program being established three years later. It’s an initiative that uses running and physical activities as a tool for girls in grades three through eight to improve confidence, self-esteem, and positive development. The program now exists in over 200 cities nationwide.
While Georgia Tech student-athletes have been involved since 2007, the Girls On The Run 5K has recently become a full campus activity.
“We’ve made a push the past couple of years to get our guys to come out on race day,” Thomas said. “The goal this year was getting more of our campus involved and we’ve had pretty good success with that.
“Pretty much every sports team that is on campus and not competing that day will be out on some level cheering the girls on,” she added. “Then I have several sororities and fraternities and a couple of departments on campus that have also taken hold of it and are volunteering to fill other cheer zones on the course and help out in other ways. It’s starting to be embraced campus-wide and that was one of the goals, to have a more collaborative effort here. So I think that’s exciting.”
It hasn’t taken much for the Yellow Jackets’ athletes to get involved. All it’s taken for them to come out en masse was to be told where and when to show up.
That’s the job of their representatives on the Student-Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB), a part of the school’s Total Person Program, which is overseen by Thomas.
“A favorite event is the Girls on the Run 5Ks because you really get to see the excitement of all these young athletes, young runners and you can put all your energy into cheering them on in a race,” said SAAB President Morgan Jackson, a senior track/cross country runner, adding with a laugh, “and you don’t have to run.”
For senior basketball player and SAAB rep Aaron Peek, running with the girls actually provided some of his favorite memories of the day.
“Girls on the Run was fun because I was actually able to run with the participants and lead a group of girls that were with their mentors to the starting line,” said Peek, “My teammate, Marcus [Georges-] Hunt and I were running, of course, a little bit faster, and we were able to weave in between the participants and cheer them on. Along with having fun, along with being communal, it was an exciting event and it was cool to see even the smallest four- or five-year-old running with their parent. It was just amazing and I was glad to participate in that.”
Among the Yellow Jackets athletes that will be wearing the biggest smile on Saturday is sophomore track/cross country runner Hayley Keadey, who ran in the event as a youngster. The last two years, and especially this year, took on a huge role, organizing the placement of athletes at the different cheer stations.
Thomas feels that Keadey’s road to success through participation in Girls On The Run is proof the program works.
“I said it last year and I’ll say it again this year. It’s kind of like you’ve been watching it come,” she said. “With us being involved in it for seven or eight years, it was bound to happen that some little girl that we volunteered with years ago would eventually become a Georgia Tech athlete. It was bound to happen and lo and behold it has, with Hayley. That’s fun and she’s embraced it, just jumped on the opportunity to get back involved with it.”
For more information on where to volunteer, entry information and logistics for Saturday’s event and on Girls On The Run, please visit girlsontherunatlanta.org.