Girls on the Run

By Jennifer LoConte
Photo courtesy of Girls on the Run of Lehigh Valley

Looking for an inspiring running program for girls promoting confidence, healthy relationships and athleticism? Girls on the Run (GOTR), an international non-profit organization, has been motivating girls from ages 8 to 13, since it first began in 1996.  Its mission is simple:  inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running. GOTR founder Molly Barker, a 4-time Ironman triathlete from North Carolina, began running at age 15 but suffered from many of the same issues that teen girls face today. Low self-esteem, a desire to fit in regardless of health risks and an unhealthy competiveness were all factors that eventually motivated Barker to start GOTR. From 13 brave girls the first year, the number doubled the following year and quickly grew to 75 participants.  Today, there are over 173 cities across the nation and Canada that offer GOTR. Last year alone, a combined 100,000 girls participated both nationally and internationally.

Here in the Lehigh Valley, we are fortunate to have a GOTR affiliate program that runs twice per year.  Lehigh County Council Director Samantha Seibert first joined the organization as a running buddy volunteer and then a training coach before becoming Director. Seibert says, “There is no greater feeling than helping a young girl realize her own self-worth, athleticism and potential to become the best at whatever she wants to accomplish.” The curriculum runs for 10 consecutive weeks, culminating in the final goal of completing a 5k race. In the very first session, girls are encouraged to be proud of their own individual differences. Next, they learn to be part of a team while learning to give and receive support to and from their teammates. Finally, participants learn about their community and actually design and implement a community service project.  Seibert says, “These projects empower participants to recognize abilities within themselves to change for the better.”

GOTR of Lehigh County offers two programs per year: a spring session for 3rd to 5th grade girls and a fall session, (run by sister program Girls on Track) that is geared towards 6th to 8th grade girls. Classes are held twice per week for 10 weeks and last 90 minutes. The spring session runs from March to June and is held at Jefferson Elementary School in Allentown with the 5k race taking place in the Lehigh Parkway. Participants in the fall session run the annual Jingle Bell 5k, held each winter at Northampton Community College. Seibert stresses that the overall goal is to increase the self-esteem of each and every participant. She says, “We want them to become comfortable with themselves while learning life skill lessons through games and running.  Whether they run, walk, jump or skip to the finish line, it’s about having fun.” Seibert has seen well over 1000 girls participate in the Lehigh County program since it first began in 2007.

Registration is primarily through participating Lehigh Valley schools and additional community sites like Jordan UCC Church, Upper Saucon Park as well as a GOTR summer community site at Cedar Creek Park in Allentown. Cost per participant is $115; however, with the generous support of sponsors like Diakon Family Life Services, no child is turned away regardless of their financial situation. Seibert says the organization is always looking for additional sponsors as well as volunteers. She says, “Being a running buddy is a great way to become involved.  Each volunteer is matched with a specific participant.” Jean Henshaw, a repeat running buddy volunteer calls GOTR an amazing program. She says, “It’s crucial for young girls to realize their potential and self-worth.  As an educator, volunteering helps me to be part of that message. You are perfect just the way you are and look what you can do.” This past spring in the Lehigh Valley, 260 empowered and confident girls along with 260 volunteers ran, walked or skipped together to the finish line. For additional information, visit or

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