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Suffolk, Franklin girls shine in 5K race

GOTR program empowers 22 runners

With COVID-19 precautions in place, the nine girls on the Franklin team and 13 members of the Suffolk Superstars participated in a Girls on the Run event on Dec. 12 in their respective localities. The start and finish line was a balloon arch, first set up in the morning at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center in Franklin. The second was in the parking lot at Pioneer Elementary School.

For many girls, it was their first race and a fun time, and several said they would do it again; others would wait and see before signing up for the spring program.

Girls on the Run, according to its website, is a national nonprofit that develops positive qualities of self-confidence, connection, character and caring in girls on the elementary and middle school levels through physical activities such as running 5K races.

The program is a campaign that began in 1996 in Charlotte, N.C., also with 13 girls, and it grew in participation and locations from there each year. By 2000, the nonprofit had gone international. The Hampton Roads Council, one of seven in Virginia, is led by Ellen Carver. The Hampton Roads Council has 34 smaller groups. Suffolk began its Girls on the Run five years ago and now has 12 participating sites. The organization is also reaching into Southampton, Isle of Wight and Gates counties as well as Franklin. For this growth, she credits the Obici Healthcare Foundation, which has largely funded the program.

“In a normal season there would be a single race that brings all those little teams together and might include as many 2,000 people,” she said. “Because of the pandemic, we did site-based 5Ks.”

That is a plus in Carver’s view.

“There are a lot of benefits [to having smaller races]. It’s more intimate, less intimidating and promotes team-building,” she said, and added the next will be in May.

Helping to build teams locally is program director Ali Reynolds of Suffolk. She started recruiting and training in September. Previous to joining the regional organization in February, she had been in the museum industry, and decided on a career change to empower girls and women. Reynolds said she found that in GOTR, which is the national philanthropy of her sorority, Gamma Phi Beta.

The Franklin Girls on the Run team was composed of Laila Cole, Amani Cumbo, Layla Davis, Livia Diskins, Melina Heath, Laylen Johnson, Nylah Peterson, Da’Tiyah Ricks, Molly Starkweather.

The Suffolk Superstars were Lily Atkinson, Rowan Chadbourne, Alayna Hawkins, Jazlyn Krach, Emiri Lawrence, Emma Macon, Reagan Midowski, Dakota Molter, Olivia Sidwell, Julia Winslow, Molly Winslow, Sara Terrillion and Aubree Yenny.

The local event was the last in the season for the Hampton Roads Council, but Carver was anything but exhausted from all the preparations and cheering.

“It was energizing,” she said. Not exhausting at all!”

To find out more about Girls on the Run, call 757-965-9040 or visit www.girlsontherun.org.