The Neon Nites 5K Run tonight will celebrate the "graduates" of Charleston's first Girls on the Run program. Registration begins at 5:30 p.m. at the University of Charleston Parking lot and is open to the public. The run begins at 6 p.m. Cost is $25. For information, visit www.childlawservices.org.
In 12 weeks, 17 girls in the third through fifth grades at Kanawha City's Chamberlain Elementary School have progressed from varying fitness abilities to being able to confidently complete a 5K run.
Along the way, they've also blossomed with self-confidence, learned teamwork and made new friends through an international program called Girls on the Run.
Geared specifically for third-graders through fifth-graders, the 12-week program includes a lesson of the day, stretching and exercise. The Chamberlain girls, all of whom signed up for the program after a presentation at the beginning of the year, have met twice a week to prepare for tonight's run, which is an open event in which other runners may join.
Local runner volunteers have served as assistant coaches during the process, with Rachel Wallace serving as leader, using a curriculum provided by Girls on the Run. It's the first time it has been offered in Kanawha County, and Wallace said she was pleasantly surprised to have 17 girls complete it.
"We started with 19 and lost two because of health reasons," she said.
Wallace said the girls came from a range of fitness levels. Some played soccer and travel soccer and were pretty fit. Others had not been active previously.
"We've had students who have never done any after-school program," Wallace said.
"We've seen really big improvements in all of them," she said. "Some have asked their parents if they can run around the block at home."
Each after-school session begins with a lesson or discussion on topics such as bullying, friendship or gossip. Running has been added gradually, first at the one-tenth mile track inside the playground and then progressing to the blocks around Chamberlain, always supervised by runner coaches.
The girls already have completed a 5K practice run and did another Thursday afternoon in preparation for tonight's run.