The sounds of cowbells, hoots and hollers and shouts of encouragement recently filled the air at Camas’ Doc Harris Stadium. The enthusiastic applause was directed to students from Helen Baller Elementary School, who ran three miles around the track.
Songs, including Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire” played at the finish line.
The third and fourth graders are participants in Girls on the Run International, a program designed to increase confidence, compassion and character and help girls establish a lifetime appreciation for health and fitness.
Dawn Potter, one of the Camas volunteer coaches for Girls on the Run, said she became interested in the program when she lived in Rhode Island. She had friends who volunteered as coaches, and their daughters had participated in the program.
Potter’s daughter was too young to participate in Girls on the Run when they lived on the East Coast. When they moved to Camas in August 2017, Potter found out from the Girls on the Run Portland office there was no program in Camas.
The Portland office asked if she would be willing to spearhead a Girls on the Run program, and Camas Community Education connected Potter with volunteer coaches Heather Fresh and Kim Neil.
The Girls on the Run International program at Helen Baller Elementary, which started in March, included discussions about how to be strong, confident and kind.
Potter said the Girls on the Run International program will resume at Helen Baller Elementary in 2019, and she hopes it will expand to other schools in Camas and Washougal.
Molly Barker started the Girls on the Run program in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1996.
Girls on the Run became a 501(c)3 organization, Girls on the Run International, in 2000. Its’ core values include recognizing our power and responsibility to be intentional in our decision making, embracing our differences and expressing joy, optimism and gratitude through our words, thoughts and actions. The other values include nurturing physical, emotional and spiritual health and standing up for ourselves and others.
Getting fit as a family
Elena Arellano, 9, of Camas, said during the May 2 practice 5K at Doc Harris Stadium in Camas, the run was challenging but she was confident.
Her mother, Allison Arellano, and grandmother, LaVonne Rasmussen, cheered her on alongside the track. Allison said parents are given a guide to the curriculum, so they can follow along and be engaged.
Kayla Borst,8, of Camas, said after the May 2 practice that running a 5K was tiring, and it felt really good to finish it.
Amber Beardmore, a sixth grade teacher at Liberty Middle School, wore a red, black and white tutu that she had made to the 5K practice. She brought along several Liberty students to encourage and cheer for the Helen Baller runners, while maintaining a water station.
Beardmore said the middle school students provided a positive, uplifting example for the elementary school runners.
“Historically, girls will crush each other emotionally and beat down those who are successful around them,” Beardmore said. “I want to flip that script, change the narrative that girls will lift up and strengthen other females in whatever they’re passionate about.”
John DiPalma, 56, and his wife, Kari, 49 a breast cancer survivor, spoke to the students about overcoming adversity before the practice 5K.
“Going through this kind of experience shakes you to your core, and we both are still very emotional about what we went through,” John DiPalma said regarding his wife’s 2015 diagnosis.
“We just wanted to give the girls the gift of experience and share with them that life does not always go as planned, but if you surround yourself with great people, family, etcetera, it will all work out,” he added.
Allison Arellano said Girls on the Run International has increased her daughter’s confidence.
“She is proud to accomplish the goal of running a 5K,” Allison Arellano said. “She has made a deep connection with the team and coaches.”
Allison Arellano added that her daughter was excited to give back to community through the team’s community impact project that involved making cards and friendship bracelets for patients in the pediatric unit at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, in Vancouver.
The 10-week Girls on the Run program culminated with a 5K on May 19, at Portland International Raceway. The Camas students joined more than 900 girls, along with their running buddies — parents, friends or teachers — to support and motivate them during the race.
Allison Arellano said she appreciated Potter bringing Girls on the Run International to Helen Baller.
“Since Elena started preparing for the 5K, my husband — Elena’s race running buddy — started getting back into running,” she said. “As a family, we started making physical activity a priority.”
The Camas participants in Girls on the Run enjoyed a closing celebration May 21, featuring Helen Baller Principal Aaron Parman who congratulated them for completing the 5K.
Lila McCarthy, 9, said she liked how the coaches weaved the weekly lessons into games, and she liked doing a physical activity with her school friends that was different than the soccer or basketball practices that she was used to.
Lana Erickson, mother of Hayden Erickson, appreciates that Girls on the Run incorporates running and emotional well being.
“It taught the girls they have power and can do anything they put their minds too,” Lana Erickson said.
She noticed Hayden’s confidence grew in many ways during the program.
“She began to believe in herself,” Lana Erickson said. “In November, our family had done a turkey trot 5K, and she ended up a bit discouraged. At the end of the Girls on the Run 5K, she crossed the finish line with a great big smile and is already planning more runs.”