A View from the Woods
School had been out for 15 minutes and a group of girls had gathered on the football field.

“All right, I think we can do a mile and a half today,” I said. “Let’s get started.” This spring, athletes from the Dartmouth women’s cross country and track teams are coaching the Girls On the Run program at three local schools: elementary schools in Thetford and Hartford and a middle school in Hartford. The program uses running as a way to teach self-respect, confidence and healthy living. Though there is an emphasis on running, the program is about much more. The national program began in 1996 and was introduced to Vermont in 1999. Since then, it has expanded rapidly, now with teams at 144 schools across the state. During their junior year, Melanie Schorr ’06 and Meredith Curtis ’06 brought the program to Hartford. The friends had talked about getting involved in the community with a skill and a passion they already had — running. Curtis had heard of Girls On the Run, and it seemed like a perfect fit. Initially, the pair looked to find an established group in the Upper Valley, but there wasn’t anything like it. With the support of the Vermont’s Girls on the Run director and their coach at the College, they started their own program at Dothan Brook Elementary. At practices twice a week, after a warm up run, walk and skipping session, we circle up to stretch, which the girls take turns leading. Then we talk about the lesson for the day. This time, we started with a game. The girls worked together to untangle a human knot, and after 10 minutes or so, we were all free. We sat in a circle and discussed how we had figured it out, focusing on leadership and the characteristics of an effective leader. We ended by discussing how each of us is a leader in some way — whether it’s on a team, in class or even at home with our siblings. The season culminates with a 5-kilometer run, where all of the Girls on the Run teams celebrate the season. Having run dozens of road races since high school, I can say that the program’s race is unlike anything I’d seen before. From the sea of pink T-shirts to the excited and piercing cheers of elementary school girls, the event is a spectacle with its unwavering positivity. Each girl wears a number one bib and gets a medal upon completion. A favorite memory is seeing one of our runners — who had told us she had never run a mile at the beginning of the season — finish the race with a smile on her face. She told us it was the hardest thing she’d ever done, but that she was proud of herself for sticking it out. As an athlete, that feeling is the biggest reward you can achieve. Some Dartmouth athletes also get involved coaching local kids through the Athletes United program, which offers third through sixth graders a chance to play free, organized sports twice a week. Big Green athletes who volunteer as coaches visit four schools in the Upper Valley for after school games. On Sundays, the young athletes come to Dartmouth for “game day.” Alpine skier Jake Perkins ’14, the program’s director, got involved at the recommendation of older teammates. He said he has enjoyed that Athletes United allows him to engage with kids and families in the community and get to know other Dartmouth athletes. Like Girls On the Run, the program has an educational component, focusing on one goal each session. AU plays soccer in the spring, basketball in the summer and dodgeball in the fall. It’s always fun to see a few of the Girls On the Run girls at Dartmouth hockey or baseball games. When our young athletes are in the stands, it’s a reminder of how Dartmouth athletes can be role models. The relationship between Dartmouth athletes and kids in the Upper Valley goes both ways. As the girls finish their laps at practice, each cheering on the next, we gather as a group. After some water and stretching, the girls talk about the upcoming race. Some are excited, while others are nervous about running farther than they have before, but for Dartmouth athlete coaches, this event is about so much more than the running — it’s about being a role model.
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