MATTOON — Arthur Elementary School's team was outfitted for Saturday's Girls on the Run 5K with tennis shoes and warm fall clothing, plus some extra flair: matching lion head bands and yellow tutus.
"I love that (Girls on the Run) teaches girls to be confident in themselves and they get to have fun by doing it," said team coach Emily Lumsden, who wore the same outfit as her runners.
The Arthur team won the spirit wear award during the Mattoon Area Family YMCA's fall 2019 Girls on the Run 5K, where colorful tutus and face paint were common sights. Organizers reported that Saturday's event drew 15 area teams and approximately 400 runners.
Girls on the Run is a physical activity-based, youth development program for girls in grades 3-8. Participating groups of girls are brought together for a 10-week program that encourages personal development, team building and community involvement.
Arthur fifth-grader Kate Wiley said completing her first Girls on the Run 5K last year was an "amazing" experience. Kate said she also enjoys doing community service projects, such as cleaning classrooms, and learning life lessons in this program.
"If you are going through something, stop, take a breath, and chill," Kate said of one of the lessons her coaches taught her.
Mattoon Riddle Elementary School fourth-grader Grace Trevino said she learned lessons, like "put yourself in other people's shoes," in Girls on the Run and has had fun running alongside all of her friends on their team.
Grace was joined in Saturday's 5K by her father, Juan Trevino, who wore a green dragon costume for the occasion. Trevino said this is his daughter's second year in the program.
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"I love that she gets so excited about Girls on the Run and it builds up her confidence," Trevino said, adding that they start by walking in practice and work up to running. "By race time, they are so pumped up to complete it. The girls work so hard to get in shape."
Fellow Riddle parent Silas Hudson wore a pink bunny costume from "A Christmas Story" to run alongside his daughter, Chloe, a third-grader, and her teammates.
"The program is really nice. It pulls the girls together and builds their relationships and teaches them that fitness can be fun and enjoyable," Hudson said. He noted that he and Chloe trained for the 5K by jogging together.
YMCA staff member Sarah Dowell, who is the council director for Girls on the Run East Central Illinois, organizes the Y's program with the help of a team of volunteers.
Dowell also has been assisted this fall by intern Kayla Bear, an Eastern Illinois University senior from Indianapolis who is a recreation administration major and a member of the Panther softball team.
Bear said she learned a lot from Dowell and had a "blast" working with the girls in the program, including filling in as a coach in Charleston.
Prior to her internship, Bear volunteered as a "Wonder Girl" with Girls on the Run. Bear said these volunteers, wearing colorful capes, run along at the back of the 5K group and offer words of encouragement to all of the runners on the course.
"The 'Wonder Girls' will always be last in the race," Bear said.