Run-for-fitness program encourages girls

It’s not easy being a pre-adolescent girl in today’s society. To help young females get through this difficult stage of life, a program called Girls on the Run was created in Charlotte in 1996.

It is a 24-lesson curriculum, meant to provide girls with the necessary tools to be successful in life.

The first year, 13 brave girls participated. The next year it grew to 26. Then word spread so fast that 75 signed up the next year. Today, Girls on the Run serves more than 150,000 girls in more than 200 cities across North America.

Girls on the Run is a physical activity program geared specifically toward girls in third through eighth grades. Using running games and interactive lessons, the program works to increase girls’ confidence and establish a strong understanding of health and fitness that will hopefully last a lifetime.

The season usually lasts about 10 weeks and ends with a celebratory 5K running event.

Kimberly Stiffel, counselor for fourth and fifth grades at Cox Mill Elementary School in Concord, is the site coordinator for the program at that school. This is her third year with Girls on the Run.

“Because our student population is so large (close to 1,200 students) and nearly 300 girls in third, fourth and fifth grades,” Stiffel said, “it can be challenging to market the program, recruit coaches and organize teams to accommodate the girls who want to participate.

“Last year we had five full teams with 15 girls on each team and still had some on a waiting list,” she said.

“The program has become so popular that we have had boys interested in a similar running program,” Stiffel said. “The past few years, our school has also offered a boys running club that is organized and led by parent volunteers.”

Stiffel also was a head coach last year, but this year she will fill in as an assistant coach and substitute coach as needed.

“Last year I had the honor of receiving the Charlotte-area Girls on the Run Volunteer of the Year Award,” Stiffel said. “I’m just honored to be able to support such a positive program and help support and encourage these young ladies through fitness and health.”

Girls on the Run relies heavily on volunteers to make the program work. More than 120,000 parents, teachers and students help run the program in the United States and Canada, she said.

“Thankfully, we have had many parents who volunteered to help coach, (as well as teachers who will be assisting them) and will be able to accommodate five full teams again this year.

“I’m so thankful for the support we have here at Cox Mill,” Stiffel said. “Our parent volunteers are amazing, and I have so much respect and admiration for our staff members who also put in the extra time after school to support these girls.”

The Cox Mill Elementary School Girls on the Run program is recruiting students and volunteers and will begin Feb. 9. Teams will meet 3-4:15 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays. The running season will end in May with the 5K.

Girls on the Run Councils are at elementary and middle schools throughout Cabarrus County. Interested participants can find a local council and register online by going to the Girls on the Run of Charlotte website,