Wearing matching yellow shirts with a graphic of a runner on the front, the pack of girls from Phillips Magnet Elementary School circled the blacktop Monday afternoon at the east Napa school.
The practice run was about more than just exercise. It was also meant to encourage empowerment, recognize inner strength and celebrate what makes each of them one of a kind.
The dozen students had gathered as part of an after-school program called Girls On The Run.
Girls on the Run is meant to be a “life-changing program for 8- to 13-year-old girls that promotes girl empowerment by teaching life skills through lessons and running,” according to the nonprofit.
Lily Marron, a fourth grader at Phillips, said she originally joined Girls On The Run because her friends did, but after the first year, “I wanted to do it again.” The celebratory 5k run that marks the end of each training session is fun, she said. Her family was there to cheer her on, said Marron. “My mom loved it.”
The fourth grader also won a raffle for a new pair of running shoes, which she wore to the practice on Monday afternoon.
The shoes make her go fast, said Marron. And when she gets tired? “I speed walk,” she said.
Meilani Rodriguez, also in fourth grade, said she likes Girls On The Run “because it makes me feel happy and I get to run and do exercise.”
“I like running fast,” said another fourth grader, Ceci Perez.
Running is good for your body, said Katherine Torres, also in fourth grade. “Last time in P.E. I got bad grades because I was running too slow,” said Torres. Not anymore.
Coach and teacher Jennifer Veveiros said she wanted to organize a Girls On The Run chapter at Phillips after hearing about the program from another Girls On The Run coach.
“It sounded perfect,” said Veveiros. “The empowerment of it,” and learning about fitness, community service and how to deal with topics including peer pressure is a great combination. “It’s such a positive program.”
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That was more than 10 years ago, “and I’ve been a coach ever since,” she said.
The after-school meeting of the Phillips Girls On The Run group also included a discussion facilitated by Veveiros about a service project the group was working on. After that, between laps around the playground, team members created two posters about how the girls can both offer and receive support.
“I support my sister by helping her with her homework,” wrote one student.
“I support others by cheering them on,” wrote another.
“I can support my mom by helping her clean,” wrote yet another.
“I support others by saying do your best,” wrote someone else.
“Working together as a team” is another way to support each other, Veveiros told the girls. “Everyone has to do their part, not just one person.”
A large display of that kind of support will be evident this Saturday at Napa Valley College.
Hundreds of girls from other area Girls On The Run teams will gather to run its BeYOUnique 5k, or 3.1-mile route around the campus.
The event will include “crazy hair” and face painting, a group warm-up, a visit to a “dream hall” and takeaways such as running shirts and pins.
Seeing all those girls running together “is just amazing,” said Veveiros.