The 10 girls sitting in a circle on the gym floor at Hays Rec Fitness Center on Tuesday afternoon had a lot of questions about the annual 5k Turkey Trot they’ve been training for the past eight weeks.
“Are we just going to be running on the dike?”
“Is there going to be one of these this spring?”
With Hays Rec’s Turkey Trot just nine days away, the girls are training as part of Girls on the Run, a 10-week nationwide youth-development program brought to Hays for the first time this fall by Hays Recreation.
One of the girls, fourth-grader Evelyn Schmidt, commented it looks like she’s going to complete the program, which Schmidt said is kind of different for her.
“Usually when I do sports, I quit when I’m half-way through,” she said. “And sometimes I’m in my own turtle shell, and this helps bring me out of the turtle shell.”
The Nov. 9 Turkey Trot is the culmination of the local Girls on the Run, but that’s not the point, said Gail Wickham, the rec center’s youth and senior program director and one of four Girls on the Run local leaders.
“We don’t expect a girl to run, there’s so much more to it. We tell them they can walk, they can skip, they can hop, they can crawl, they can do whatever,” Wickham said.
Describing practice, the girls are encouraged to run around the fitness center at 1105 Canterbury Dr., seeing if they can do a couple laps. If they have to walk half of it or stop and take a break, that’s OK.
“It’s not about the running,” Wickham said. “It’s about feeling strong and powerful, being able to set that goal, being able to achieve it, so the girl can feel good about herself at the end.”
Girls on the Run is based in Charlotte, N.C., with Wichita a regional hub. Wickham and the other local leaders were trained there, including background checks and CPR training.
Ten girls third through sixth grade signed up, and since Sept. 1 they’ve met twice a week after school, normally on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Cost is $150, or $50 with a fundraiser, Wickham said.
“Our goal is to let anyone participate,” she said.
Program lessons touch on healthy relationships, including ending gossip, what’s a best friend, the influence of social media, cooperation, not being a bystander, thinking things through, standing up for yourself, expressing emotions, celebrating and sharing strengths, healthy habits and real beauty.
Each day’s session consists of conversation around the day’s topic, practicing the 5k, and working on a community project. In this case the girls chose writing cards and notes to people in the hospital to cheer them up.
Practicing the 5k can mean running to a pole, then walking to a pole, with everybody having a buddy and keeping their own pace.
Girls on the Run leader Haley Nixon, a Hays Rec program director, on Tuesday had the girls run laps outdoors around the fitness center at 1105 Canterbury Drive. Sixth-grader Claire Schippers gave the main reason she likes Girls on the Run.
“Having goals,” Schippers said.
For fourth grader Evangeline Robinson, it’s “probably running,” she said.
Drawing pictures about their practice 5k last week, fourth-grader Alondra Garcia-Morales described it to leader Kristen Wildeman, Hays Rec wellness programs and group fitness director, “I finished,” she said.
“I was able to get ahead of people,” said third-grader Derilynn Wells, adding later “this is my first time, it takes a lot of work.”
“I started to get tired, but I kept on going,” said fourth-grader Lena Smalley.
A lesson Garcia-Morales remembered was on bullying, and what she learned.
“If you see someone being bullied you can help them,” she said. “Or if you’re getting bullied, you can get away from them.”
That’s the idea, said Wickham.
“We can work with girls, empower them, make them feel good about themselves, as a girl,” she said, “to be strong and to stand up for yourself and yet knowing I can stand up but I don’t have to be rude and I don’t have to be a bully and I don’t have to be mean.”
The program, which can register 20 girls each session, will be offered again at Hays Rec in the spring, as well as possibly by a Hays elementary school. Each of the girls Tuesday said they’d like to participate again.
Learning to complete the 5k is just one of the payoffs. Schmidt said she’d recommend it to others.
“It can give you an opportunity to make new friends,” said Schmidt, naming off Lena, Alondra, Claire, Derilynn and Evangeline.
Garcia-Morales said the program is fun because “we get to talk to people we don’t know and make new friends.”
Lena has liked that part too.
“I usually just read all the time, I love reading,” she said, so Girls on the Run has been different for her. “I would go back in an instant, I love this. You immediately have a lot more friends, and you’ll be more confident, and you get free snacks, so that’s good.”