2016: A Letter from the Executive Director

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Here at Girls on the Run-Chicago, we often find ourselves uttering the phrase: “teamwork makes the dream work,” and this year we have some big changes happening in order to move that dream forward another few steps. As the Chicago council celebrates its seventeenth (!) year, we know with absolute certainty that this program changes lives. It not only teaches girls about goal-setting and healthy living, but it gives today’s young girls the power to believe in themselves and the confidence they need to succeed in an ever-changing world.

What makes it all possible?

Teamwork. Our staff, along with our energetic and compassionate community of parents, coaches, site coordinators, volunteers, and board, keep us moving forward, and that support has helped us grow and serve more girls than ever before. As we welcome Grundy County (8 counties total!) to the GOTRC family this spring, our 2016 season will be our largest ever, with 8,500 girls participating at 376 sites across the Chicagoland area. Thanks to you, thousands of girls will experience the magic of our program, many for the first time, this year.

We’re also thrilled to announce the debut of Heart & Sole, a brand new curriculum targeted to help middle school girls deal with the issues that arise during adolescence. This much-needed addition to Girls on the Run will allow girls to develop their abilities and self-worth when dealing with conflicting messages. With Heart & Sole, they’ll learn to see their value and tap into their abilities no matter the situation. That’s something we’re incredibly proud to be a part of – and you should be, too.

At the end of the day, Girls on the Run exists to build confident, happy, and healthy girls that will pave the way for future generations. Your inspiration and encouragement has been invaluable to our success, and we hope you are as excited as we are for what’s to come in 2016. We can’t wait to celebrate every single accomplishment with you and our girls. Go team!

Elle Dailey, a Girl on the Run

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We chatted with a young Lady named Elle Dailey about her journey training for the Chicago Marathon and fundraising for an awesome organization called Girls on the Run.

So, tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a 24-year-old dreamer, runner, health nut, animal lover, caffeine addict, foodie, holiday-obsessed, family gal! Always seeking a new challenge, physical activity, and outdoor adventure. I’m blessed to be married to my best friend and high school sweetheart. I couldn’t survive adulthood without him; he’s always positive, always laughing, and always smiling. I envy that, but it rubs-off on me too! We live in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and I’m currently working as an “email broadcast specialist” at a company called Medical Marketing Services. On my free time, I run, Netflix binge, do spontaneous and goofy things with my hubby, and spend time with family and friends (not so exciting, I know). 

Why do…

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SoleMate September: Jessica T.

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As a young girl and even now as a 36 year old woman, I struggle feeling comfortable in my own skin. I struggle when it comes to confronting a difficult person, and I struggle when it comes to tackling something intimidating. This year I’ll be running the Bank of America Chicago Marathon not just for myself, but on behalf of all the girls out there who struggle with self confidence and positive self-image.

I have chosen to raise funds for the Girls on the Run charity organization which, through after school programs, empowers young girls through health and fitness initiatives to see themselves as fierce and independent individuals. I am having so much fun training for this race. Please help me reach my fundraising goal and support these girls.

I know most of you know how running has the power to change a life for the better. Let’s help these kids see that now.

Please help me reach my goal and donate below. Thank you so much.

Donate to Jessica’s fundraiser: https://www.crowdrise.com/gotrchicagomarathon2015/fundraiser/jessicataylor3

SoleMate September: Jim C.

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My family and I are running the Bank of America Chicago Marathon this year in honor of my sister Cathy Coughlin, who passed away on April 23rd. Cathy was a long time Chicago resident and a tremendous advocate for girls and young women. Cathy was also a runner and athlete. Cathy and I completed 4 Chicago marathon challenges together during a variety of conditions including rain, snow and unexpectedly warm weather.

Throughout Cathy’s battle with pancreatic cancer, her family, friends and colleagues at AT&T rallied behind her as part of Team “Cathy Strong.” We hope to honor her strength, generosity and tremendous grit by completing this year’s Chicago Marathon. In her eulogy, my daughter Juliana closed with this powerful quote from Stuart Scott: ‘When you die, that does not mean you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and the manner in which you live.’ Aunt Cathy – thank you for truly inspiring us all with the way you lived your life.”

I know Cathy will be with us on October 11th in Chicago supporting the outstanding work of Girls on the Run-Chicago and helping us live our lives in a manner in which we can proudly say that Cathy “beat cancer.”  #cathystrong

Here are a couple of other items that I hope help introduce Cathy to you and inspire you to support Girls on the Run-Chicago:

Cathy Coughlin’s Life – Chicago Tribune: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/obituaries/ct-cathy-coughlin-obit-met-20150424-story.html

Cathy Coughlin’s Speech – Girls Inc: https://vimeo.com/85455804

Donate to Jim’s Solemate Fundraiser: https://www.crowdrise.com/GOTRChicagoMarathon2015/fundraiser/jimcoughlin1 

SoleMate September: Angie T.

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In 2010, my New Year’s Resolution was to lose weight and get back into shape. I started run-walking on a treadmill in an efforts to meet my weight loss goals. Over the course of a few months, I got better at it and before I knew it, I was running 3-5 miles at a time. I quickly learned that not only was I changing my body, I was changing my mind.  I was happier, more confident and my self-image changed. It was through all of this, that I gained better self esteem and a belief that I could do whatever I put my mind to. That year, a friend asked me to run a half marathon with her, and I agreed. Next thing I know, I had run 7 half marathons and countless 5 and 10Ks.

In 2014, I decided to up the challenge and declared it the year of the marathon. I was fortunate enough to be selected in the lottery and I made my Chicago Marathon debut. It was my poorest performance to date. I was plagued by lack of motivation to train.  I struggled with asthma issues.  I barely made it in under the 6:30 cut off…but…I made it.   finished. But most of all… I made it to the starting line! And once again proved to myself, that I could do whatever I put my mind to.

In 2015, I got involved with Girls on the Run as a coach. Over the last few months, I have had the pleasure of working with 13 young girls. The program is amazing and with every session I am reminded why I am doing this. It is for that reason, I am running the 2015 Chicago Marathon as a GOTR SoleMate!

As you can probably deduce…there is so much of my own experience, in life and in running, that connect me with the GOTR mission. The lessons I learned through running came to be when I was in my 30s, and this program exposes the girls to them as early as third grade. The goal is to give those girls the lifelong advantage of these skills/perspectives. I want to ensure that every girl that wants to be involved in the GOTR program can, regardless of financial situation. Please help me reach my fundraising goal so that every girl can participate in this life-changing, after-school program regardless of her family’s ability to pay.

Please help me share this experience with other girls. On behalf of more than 1 million girls who have participated in GOTR throughout North America to-date and the 10,000 Girls on the Run-Chicago hopes to serve this year, THANK YOU!

Sparkle Fingers!


Donate to Angie’s Solemate Fundraiser: https://www.crowdrise.com/GOTRChicagoMarathon2015/fundraiser/angelinathayer 

Margo’s motivation

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If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. For 9-year-old Margo, it felt like many of her doors were closing. A naturally athletic girl from the start, she tried every sport and found a love in gymnastics. But after getting diagnosed with epilepsy a year prior, things got complicated. School activities became difficult, and a series of seizures and uncertainty of what was to come proved to be too dangerous to let Margo continue gymnastics.

While Margo was unable to get clearance from her doctor for many other sports, Girls on the Run became her activity of choice. Margo’s older sister, now in high school, did GOTR in third grade, and Margo had previously done the Lil’ Spark Sprints at the end-of-season 5k. She was excited to have a new outlet, but getting started was a struggle. Margo blamed her body for letting her down, regularly saying “I hate my body. I wish I could get another one.”

To help inspire Margo, her coach found her a running buddy and Margo started to track her progress over the course of the season. With GOTR lessons and practice twice a week, Margo was able to create bonds with other girls and learn about what she was capable of when she believed in herself and worked hard. Margo trained with her running buddy and made her own personal goals as she went through the program. With each mile, Margo improved her endurance and speed, and it wasn’t long before Margo’s outlook and attitude started to change for the better.

Come 5k Day, Margo was prepared to win. Not even the cloudy weather could bring her down! She had her sights set on first place, but her mother reminded her that whether it was first place or last place, it didn’t matter. “Run it for you,” she told Margo. After everything Margo had faced up until this point, it was important to finish the run and celebrate Margo’s bravery and perseverance.

5…4…3…2…1…. GO! Margo bolted the second the buzzer went off. She was eager to prove that she could do what she set out to accomplish. Not even half an hour later, Margo finished the 5k – as the first runner to cross the finish line! Margo felt invincible.

Beyond the finish line, Margo continued running until she reached her sister. They hugged and jumped together for her victory. Margo was overwhelmed with happiness, cheering, “I did it with this body!” It was a truly wonderful moment for Margo and her family to see Margo with her GOTR medal, and to read the inscription on the back that read:

“I have the power to believe in myself. To stand up for who I am. To say ‘yes’  to a challenge. To cheer on new friends. TO GROW UP STRONG”.

Margo’s support system and GOTR gave her the tools to cross the finish line, but Margo made her dream come true all on her own. Margo’s mother attributes her success to the fact that she “runs with her heart.” Margo found a home in GOTR, one that she says she looks forward to coming back to each new season.

Girls like Margo show us that when things feel difficult or even impossible, you can succeed despite the odds. For Margo, controlling the outcome is her way of succeeding, her mother says, and we believe Margo is a winner in every right.

Running took Margo to the top. Where will running take you? #RunningTakesMe

Superheroes stand up for what’s right

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by Sophia D.

Who am I? I am a superstar and a rock star. I am amazing, powerful, and awesome. I am strong and healthy. I am beautiful, on the inside and out. I am a princess who can grow up to be anything in the world if I set my mind to it.

Girls on the Run taught me these important and inspiring words along with so much more. For me, Girls on the Run isn’t just an exercise group. It’s not just a way to have a reason to boast about running a 5k. Even though Girls on the Run improved me physically, it also supported me mentally and emotionally.

At my school, girls are eligible to sign up and attend our school’s Girls on the Run program. In the autumn and spring, our team of third grade girls would meet every Monday and Wednesday in Coach Nader’s room. We would have a quick and healthy snack, and then discuss our daily lesson.

Coach Nader always taught us important life lessons. These lessons would help us interact sociably with our friends, family, and peers. Take for example, the toothpaste lesson. Coach taught us that words and actions are like toothpaste. When you squeeze the tube of toothpaste, the toothpaste obviously squirts out. However, it is impossible to put the toothpaste back into the tube. This is just like what we say or do to other people. If we say or do something mean or cruel to a peer, we can never take that action or insult back, no matter how hard we try.

In Girls on the Run, we were taught how to keep ourselves and the earth healthy. We learned about the types and amounts of food we need to eat daily to have a healthy diet. We also learned about how much sleep we need every night, how much screen time we should have each day, and the amount of water in a day is a healthy amount. To keep the earth and our environment healthy, we need to clean up and recycle garbage, not run water when we’re not using it, and to turn off the lights as we exit the room.

After we learned the lesson for the day, we would exercise by doing a running activity that corresponded with the lesson. For example, on the day we learned about healthy habits, each girl would run a lap or two and meet up with one of the coaches. She would then tell the coach one thing she does to keep herself healthy. The girl would then receive a paper clip and run another lap. The girls would string all of their paper clips together to form a chain. There were no winners to this game, because the girls respected everyone’s strengths and weaknesses.

One of the major ideas we learned in Girls on the Run was how to stick up for ourselves if we or someone else was being bullied. Even though I had participated in Girls on the Run four years ago, this life lesson still comes up daily in my life.

One of the main reasons I joined Girls on the Run was because I knew that Coach Nader and the Girls on the Run program could help me deal with my bullies. I know I was only in third grade, but I was bullied and teased to a point where it distracted me from my schoolwork. I remember one day, I was being picked on and I decided to finally do something about it. I thought to myself, “What would Coach Nader tell me to do?” I remember her saying to always tell an adult, so that’s what I did. I raised my hand and spoke up for myself.

The lessons that Girls on the Run taught me still appear in my life. Whenever it is a nice day, I get off my phone or tablet and go ride my bike, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes. I try to make healthy choices when I eat. I take care of the earth and myself. I am always kind to those around me, even if they do not show kindness in return. I still even deal with bullies today.

A while ago, my friend, who is a year younger than I am, was being picked on. He was being called rude names and being teased by other boys in my grade because of the clubs that he was in. I stood up for my friend and told the bullies to back off. I told my teacher, and the boys apologized for what they did. It felt good to do something about the bullies, especially because they were picking on one of my good friends. I was so happy with myself for defending my friend immediately, without hesitating. I feel like what I learned in Girls on the Run helped me to stand up right away. Everybody should have that sense that they did something right, and I believe that Girls on the Run can help young girls have that opportunity.

Even if these daily appearances of important values aren’t enough to pay for the time and devotion put into Girls on the Run, the race day definitely is. On race day, all the physical training we did finally comes to use. The team of girls come together to have an once-in-a-lifetime experience. The race isn’t just an average 5k. Girls on the Run teams from around the area come together to join hands and celebrate what they’ve learned from the past season.

One of the first words I would use to describe the race is empowering. Whenever we passed another Girl on the Run, we would give them strengthening words, such as, “Keep up the good work!” or “You can do it, keep going!” I remember that when I was slowing down, a Girl on the Run that I have never seen before ran past me shouting, “Keep going, superstar!” That simple phrase strengthened me so much, that I began to pick up my pace and run. The girl empowered me because Girls on the Run are all taught the same thing – show kindness towards others.

Before the race, the girls got to make little foam tiaras that they could wear during the 5k. The girls were able to put sparkles and sequins on the tiaras and write on them with markers. Coach Nader thought it would be nice if we put inspiring quotes on our tiaras. To this day, I still remember what I wrote. “I rock as me.” During the race, I truly did feel amazing, powerful, and strong. I felt like a princess or a superheroine while I was running.

Girls on the Run helped me realize my inner beauty in ways that I had never known were possible before. To this day, when I am being bullied, I feel unhealthy or inactive or just plain sad, I remember everything that Coach Nader taught me during my time in Girls on the Run. The empowering fire of Girls on the Run still blazes in my life, even though I participated four years ago. I will never forget the Girls on the Run cheer: “Girls on the Run is so much fun!”

Where have you been all my life?

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by Olivia G.

Ever have one of those “Where have you been all my life?” moments? I’ve had a few – Oreos, Nutella, my phone – but Girls on Track is different.

Girls on Track is not just a plain running club. It’s a fun after-school activity that I look forward to throughout the day. When the bell finally rings, I almost shout out loud! With Girls on Track, I never know what’s coming next, but every week I’m as excited as ever. It’s filled with fun activities that help us learn and make us laugh – even the exercising puts a smile on my face! It’s better than any club, in my opinion, because the lessons we learn aren’t about concepts we already know, like reusing, recycling, eat your veggies, etc. The lessons we learn with Girls on Track are real-life situations: how to survive through middle school and still enjoy it. The best thing about this program is one word: confidence. Girls on Track is all about it, from activities about confidence with yourself to games where you learn about confidence in real life situations. The difference between this program and others is that you can actually apply everything you learn to real life! Trust me, I’ve tried it!

One benefit of Girls on Track is friends. It’s helped me get to know the people in my grade better, some of which I only know by name because of shared classes. Now I don’t know those people only by name but by their personality and kindness. Even though I’m in sixth grade, I know tons of seventh and eighth graders who now say “hi” in the halls. I’ve even made a close friend who is a seventh grader, and we always have fun together at Girls on Track. I have made another friend who is in eighth grade, who I barely knew before. Through Girls on Track, I now know what a great friend she is, and we love to run and talk to each other. Thanks to Girls on Track, I have more friends, which for me equals more happiness, fun, and memories.

Decisions. We all use the concept in life, and this is how Girls on Track helps with it by teaching lessons that get you thinking about making choices. You have to decide which is the right thing to do, and many lessons have decision making woven inside. They may be disguised, but they help you in many ways. If your friend says to do something that you don’t know is right, you should stop and think for yourself. Many people in middle school come across that, and half the time, their decision is wrong. Girls on Track shows us the right thing to do, and it opens our eyes.

Another skill we learned was how to deal with negativity. This is HUGE in middle school, between bullies and mean comments. Girls on Track helps us defend ourselves without being mean about it. For example, if someone says “You’re ugly,” Girls on Track teaches you to say something like this: “I’m beautiful in my own way.” It’s true, and it doesn’t hurt anyone. Everybody’s dealt with mean comments and bad attitudes, but the real question is: Were you dealing with it the right way? With Girls on Track, you know you are.

Need a confidence boost? Girls on Track helps with that. Confidence is in every exercise and game we do, whether it’s in being confident in the decision you make or dealing with negativity. Even when people are negative to you, you have to be confident in yourself and not let the negativity get to you. Girls on Track helps build your confidence, so you can deal with the negativity and decisions every day.  

Girls on Track is fun, educational, and interactive. Hey, Girls on Track – where have you been all my life?

Girls on the Run: Not just a running club

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Girls on the Run is a great program that helps you get out of your shell. When I joined GOTR two years ago, I made new friends that were older and younger than me. I learned that I was part of a group of girls that were experiencing the same changes I was experiencing. The older girls had already gone through what I was going through, and the younger girls looked to me to explain what I was going through in the moment. We were all able to relate to each other. Being a girl in today’s world is not easy. Thankfully, there is a club like GOTR that has taught me and many other girls, the importance of speaking up for yourself and others, that your inside is way more valuable than your outside, and that when you run, you run at your own pace. I am so happy to have joined GOTR.

At first, I thought that it was going to be just an after school club, but it became so much more than that. The coaches work to help you make your inside strong enough to carry you to the finish line of a 5k race. My GOTR coached helped me realize that all girls go through the same things and that if we are kinder to each other, we can learn from the experiences that we share. This taught me that I was not alone and that I was not different from anyone else. It helped me get the courage to participate during the GOTR discussions. It helped me to open up and not be scared to share my thoughts and feelings.

GOTR has really helped me learn how to deal with self-image, bullying, and how girls sometimes try to be perfect even though no one ever really is. During one of the body image topics, we discussed how television and movies want girls to believe that beauty is on the outside. We looked at magazines of pretty girls that I used to want to look like. But when we saw how the pictures were photo shopped I realized that I wanted to look like someone that did not even exist! Even the pretty models wanted to look like the girls in the picture! I am so thankful for that discussion, because it helped me realize that everyone is beautiful in their own way and that no one should tell us what beautiful should look like. I remember being in third grade and already knowing that beauty is about how you feel about yourself and how you make others feel about themselves.

It is great to be part of a group where girls take care of each other and root for each other instead of competing, gossiping, or putting each other down. I will never forget that during my first year with GOTR, I was always the last one to finish going around my school. In the beginning, I felt embarrassed because I thought that the girls were frustrated that they always had to wait for me to finish.

One day, I was, once again, the slowest to finish. I had to go one more time around the school, and I did not think that I could do it. Everyone else had finished and were just waiting for me to complete my last lap. But, thankfully, right when I thought I did not have what it took to finish, two twin sisters, Julia and Claudia, started running with me. I was in the middle. They ran the entire last lap with me. They coached me to not give up and they kept telling me that they were right there with me. As we turned the corner, all the girls started chanting my name and then Julia’s and Claudia’s name. When I crossed the line, you would have thought that I had won a race! They were all high fiving me and congratulating me. I felt the girl power that GOTR stands for. It is true that we’re all running at our own pace, but we are also running one run.  It’s a team. When we all finish, the team finished.

This will be my last year with GOTR. It is now my turn to be a role model. It is my turn to encourage others. If there is ever one girl who might not make it to the last lap, I want her to know that I will be right there running the last lap with her. More than 160,000 kids stay home from school every day to avoid being bullied. At GOTR, I learned the, “I feel ______ when you ________ because________. I would like for you ______” statement. I learned that it is okay to stand up for myself and others. Girls aren’t supposed to be quiet and easygoing all the time. We have to stand up for ourselves and our friends when we are not being treated right. We have to be able to express ourselves and not avoid a problem that can be fixed by talking about it. One of the greatest lessons I learned was not to become your own worst bully! I learned that beauty comes from within. Beauty is not your hairstyle, make up, or clothes. Beauty is about kindness and the love that you have for yourself and others. GOTR taught me that every girl will go or has gone through all the same things and that I should not be hard on myself.

My coaches have taught me to think of my “Happy Pace” when I am running. The Happy Pace is your Happy Place. This is a good method to use if you feel so exhausted that you think that you might quit. I like to use this method to imagine that I am running towards my happiest destination. It helps me to enjoy running more. You can also use this method in any situation, not just running. You can find happiness in any situation. I learned that if I focus on the positive, that I can overcome any obstacle.

Girls on the Run has made a really big impact on my life. The club has made me realize things that I never knew before. I thought that GOTR was going to be just about running and learning about eating healthy, but it has been so much more than that. The first time I finished the 5k run, I felt extraordinary. I had never run for such a long time. I learned that nothing is impossible. I learned that as long as you build yourself strong in the inside, that you will always be strong on the outside. I will remember the methods, keep my friendships, and always believe in GIRL POWER!