Young girls can face all sorts of negative messages while growing up about how to act, how to look, or how to feel about themselves.
But a growing program that has expanded to Rockford is helping girls and young women run away from the negative influences and towards the positive experiences in life.
"Everywhere you look, people are telling girls, or anyone, you can't do things," says Alyrica Hecox, 3rd grade teacher at Haskell Academy. "There's not enough people telling them that they can, and not just telling them that they can do them, but walking them through, setting goals, and what to do when you get discouraged and can't reach that goal right away."
A growing program in northwest Illinois called Girls on the Run is combating those negative messages with running and life lessons.
"It's more about helping girls understand that they are amazing just as they are," says the group's executive director Laurie Dayon. "They don't have to compromise who they are just to fit in. This program is really meant for these girls to get those lessons in early before some of the really tough stuff hits. That way they are guarded against it, and get through that at that time in their lives."
As the girls build up their stamina toward finishing a five kilometer race, they build their confidence, self-esteem, and positive body image for themselves, and each other.
The group starts off running laps inside the gym during the cold winter months. Once it is warm enough to go outside, they run longer and longer routes through different neighborhoods.
After ten weeks of running and twenty important life lessons, the girls are ready to tackle the course, and whatever else life throws their way.
"If you are not doing so well in school, at the end of the day you'll get happy," says 4th grade student and runner Ianna Swick. "When you run with the girls, you won't be sad or bored."
Registration for this spring is going on now through February 15, and the program begins March 6.
There is a cost to enter the program, but Girls on the Run has a sliding scale to accommodate any family. Click here to learn more.