Preparing for 5k builds self esteem, teaches life skills and promotes good health

A scene from the 2018 Girls on the Run 5k event in Marquette. (Courtesy of Girls on the Run of Marquette)

By Elizabeth Fust
In early June, girls who have been training for months will be running, maybe even dancing, across the finish line of the Confidence 5K, a fundraiser and season-end event for the U.P. chapter of Girls on the Run. This 5K isn’t just for Girls on the Run; members of the community are invited to participate in order to support and learn about Girls on the Run.
The program was started in 1996 in North Carolina with 13 third- through sixth-grade girls; the organization has now reached over a million participants across the country. Girls on the Run first came to the U.P. by way of Cindy Merkel, a retired institutional researcher at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste Marie.
The organization has expanded west in the U.P. with teams of Girls on the Run reaching to Hancock and Hannahville. The program started in Marquette last year with 18 participants and now has capacity for 60. Sloan Dorr, Girls on the Run program director, attributes the growth in capacity to the increase in volunteers.
“With the amount of volunteer coaches that we have recruited this year and their donating their time to us, we have the capability to triple in size,” she said.
The main program is for girls in grades three through six. The girls are grouped into teams and over the course of 10 weeks, meeting twice week, the girls train for a 5K and learn life skills. Dorr gave a few examples of the life skills taught: “learning to be more grateful, learning to use different ways of looking at problems, positive self talk.”
The participants learn some skills through team activities.
“They have one where they get balloons and they have to write kind of negative thoughts that go through their head, and then at the end of practice they pop the balloon and so it just makes it go away. It’s just so cool to see this program come to light and be a part of it,” Dorr said.
At mid-season the teams work on a community-wide project. It’s part of another life lesson.
“They get to choose by team but they all get to make the decision … The community project can be anything from volunteering at a nursing home, weeding community gardens, writing letters to sick people in the hospital … the girls get to create it!
“They’re impacting the community, again to show that just because they’re young doesn’t mean they can’t make an impact in somebody’s life,” she said.
Another program offered by Girls on the Run is Heart and Soul, which is aimed at girls entering their teens.
Dorr said Heart and Soul is essentially the same, but the life skills taught are age-appropriate for teens.
“They talk about sexuality, but they talk about growing up and making decisions, and being a teenager, and your body’s changing, and your home might be changing, and just different aspects of school. Balancing school and life and social media and all theses things that are coming at you,” Dorr said.
The training the girls go through started in April and will culminate in the Confidence 5K Celebration, where members of the public may also run.
“The girls are going through a curriculum. Each week builds on itself of what they’re learning as well as the training that they’re going through. They’re training for a 5K just like anyone … people can’t go out and run a 5K without training for it,” Dorr said. “They’re also training for life with these skills that they’re learning … Then the end result is the 5K that we’re putting on in June.”
The Confidence 5K will begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 8, at Presque Isle Park in Marquette. Registration is available online or at the event. Again, everyone in the community is invited to participate. All of the funds will go to supporting the U.P. chapter of Girls on the Run for curriculum materials and scholarships so that no girl will ever be turned away due to finances. The Confidence 5K will be a celebration of the girls’ accomplishments, the community they have fostered, and a time to have fun.
“The girls are all going to have tutus and spray-painted hair and face paint and it’s really cute, these little kids that are so excited and then these adults, too,” Dorr said.
For community members who wish to register to participate in the 5K, or for information about Girls on the Run in general, visit the U.P. chapter’s website at For more information about joining, volunteering or finding a local Girls on the Run team, contact Dorr at

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