It's a rainy Wednesday afternoon, but that has not dampened the spirits of 14 preteen girls at The Fletcher School on Sardis Road.
Clad in pink and lime-green T-shirts, the girls scamper to the Falcon's Nest, a freestanding multipurpose building at the back of the school.
Coach Cathy Dulin is ready to start the Girls on the Run program.
Girls on the Run is an international program - it has spread throughout the U.S. and Canada - started by Charlottean Molly Barker in 1996. The program is a fee-based, 24-week curriculum that teaches girls emotional, social and intellectual development within the constructs of training them to run. The culmination of the program is participation in a 5K event.
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Jessica Otto, the Mecklenburg County Girls on the Run council program director, says that there are more than 100 individual Girls on the Run programs at area schools, YMCAs and churches, with more than 1,300 girls currently involved. Internationally, more than 64,000 girls participated in 2009. "Overall, the girls that participate have a better body image and define themselves in a more positive light," says Otto. "Our primary goal is to reach every girl we possibly can."
Dulin, 48, is a volunteer and Fletcher parent. As a mother of three boys - and someone who grew up with three brothers - she is poised and confident around the girls.
"This is my girl fix," said Dulin. "I've been coaching the girls here for three years, both fall and spring seasons."
She has coached so well she received the Mecklenburg County Coach of the Year award in 2009.
Dulin got involved with the Girls on the Run program at the urging of her husband.
"He knew the founder, Molly Barker, and I had an opportunity to work as a helper at Fletcher before I took over as coach," said Dulin.
The young runners are of different levels of competence. The Girls on the Run program was developed to help them understand what it takes to be fit and be happy. The joy they experience from running is an integral part of the life lessons.
Dulin plans to have the girls ready to run Charlotte's Thunder Road 5K/Jingle Jog on Dec. 12.
"We do a 5K practice around the ninth week of the program here at Fletcher. We invite the parents and make it a big party," she said.
"I just want the girls to have a good time and challenge themselves."