Girls on the Run

GOTR-DC’s team from Brent Elementary celebrate the power of team work and determination after crossing the finish line.

Carolyn Bruckner’s daughter, a student at Brent Elementary School, was not interested in exercise. In fact, she hated running. Bruckner enrolled her in Girls on the Run (GOTR) anyway. GOTR is a nonprofit afterschool program available in several Capitol Hill elementary schools designed to enhance children’s social, emotional and physical skills to help them successfully navigate life experiences. To her parent’s surprise, Bruckner’s daughter discovered that she couldn’t wait to participate in the 75-90 minute practice twice a week.

Rain or shine, program participants from Brent Elementary School never stop.

“We were so excited for our daughter to be a part of the (GOTR) team,” Bruckner said. “She loves the program because it’s more than just running. It’s about confidence, connection and movement. She can’t wait to do it again in the spring.”

GOTR is a nationwide organization with a research-based curriculum that is structured around giving girls an understanding of themselves, fostering physical health, valuing relationships, teamwork and recognizing how they can shape the world at large. Participants can gain critical life skills that strengthen their potential at a time when societal pressures and conflicting messages about how to feel and act can cause doubt and uncertainty.

Founded in 2006, GOTR has grown from one team to 50 teams and more than 750 participants, explained Rachel Malkusak, GOTR-DC program director. “This one-of-a-kind program offers a safe space for everyone to recognize and develop the connection between mind and body which can have a life-long impact on participants.”

At each of the several Capitol Hill area schools, Malkusak said the GOTR program is after-school, but depending on need, some locations may choose to hold sessions before school. The program begins each fall and continues for 10 weeks. This season, GOTR culminates with a community 5K event at Anacostia Park on Sunday, Nov. 19th.

GOTRDC Program Director Rachel Malkusak

Based on the premise that children today are exposed to longstanding gender stereotypes, societal obstacles and cultural challenges that can be detrimental to their emotional and physical health, GOTR has developed evidence-based programs that inspire all girls “to build their confidence, kindness and decision-making skills,” according to the website. Dynamic lessons instill valuable life skills including the important connection between physical and emotional health.

Lessons Enhance Living

GOTR coaches are the heart of the program, according to Malkusak. They are trained volunteers who lead a team of participants through a season of fun and powerful lessons. For example, in Lesson 5, girls learn about the importance of finding balance in their lives. Children are prompted, “Why do you think balance is important?” According to the lesson plan, competence, confidence and caring are the life skills targets in Lesson 5. The curriculum encourages girls to use their brains, brawn and emotions. Girls learn about their ability to shift their thinking and reactions to create a better-feeling thought and consequently result in their everyday lives.

Participants gather in a circle with a coach in the middle for each lesson. In Balance they explore answers to questions such as, ‘How do you take care of your body? What do you do to make your brain stronger? What activities do you enjoy? What are some emotions you have experienced? and Who are the important people in your life?’. “There is always a workout after the circle,” said Malkusak. “It’s either walking, running or whatever a happy pace is.” She said each session ends with a wrap up, a cool down and discussion on what to work on in between practices so they have an idea of how to keep themselves balance.

The Brent team radiates joy and accomplishment after conquering the community 5k.

“Being a coach for Brent’s GOTR team has been one of my favorite experiences,” said Caitlin Arbuckle. “As a full-time teacher at Brent, I see girls in the classroom and around school every day, but there is something special about seeing them during GOTR. They get to show us a side that they don’t always have a place and time to express. The girls I coached are funny, kind, supportive and unique. It’s a privilege to help them explore themselves and their friendships, all while seeing their confidence soar.” Coaches receive tools and support as needed and often find they get as much out of coaching as they give.

Not a runner? Not a problem at GOTR. You simply need to have a desire to support and encourage the next generation. Plenty of other volunteer opportunities exist. GOTR needs help with the 5K this month, and also has slots for groups that would like to help as well as one-time opportunities. “Anyone is welcome to volunteer,” said Malkusak. “We have 1500 terrific volunteers between the fall and spring programs with all different backgrounds.”

Maybe this year, GOTR leaders and participants can take a trip up East Capitol Street and their share insights with about creating a successful program that is inclusive and supportive. Building a world where every girl can know and activate their limitless potential is powerful. The organization is dedicated to inclusion, diversity and equity – values that would serve our confused leaders very well.

For information about volunteering or the 5K race:

Pattie Cinelli is a health and fitness professional and journalist who has been writing her column for more than 25 years. She focuses on non-traditional ways to stay healthy, get fit and get well. Please email her with questions or column suggestions at: