ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Girls on the Run Rio Grande aspires to serve the girls of Bernalillo and Valencia Counties by teaching them about physical and emotional health. Trained coaches use running and hands-on activities to build social, emotional and physical skills in girls between third and fifth grade.

“It’s a character development program that integrates running and healthy lifestyles and healthy choices. We’re trying to catch girls right before they go into middle school which is a pivotal time for them,” said Council Director Angelica Turrieta.

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The program works with local schools and serves as an after-school program through that school site. Turrieta said their goal for their spring 2022 season was to have 50 girls participating in the program, but they surpassed that and had 87 girls participate across nine schools in Albuquerque, Belen, and Los Lunas.

Vanessa Tsai joined Girls on the Run when she was in the third grade. “Being a girl in the program, I loved my coaches. I loved the program, I loved going and being able to do something healthy while also learning valuable lessons that I can use in my day-to-day life and as I grow,” Tsai said.

As an adult, she became involved on the board and began coaching in 2020. “It’s great to see the other side of it through the executive decisions you make as a board, talk about the curriculum, and it’s nice to just kind of come full circle,” Tsai said.

One of the lessons she learned as a child that has stuck with her into adulthood is using “I feel” statements. “I feel” statements are used when dealing with what the curriculum calls uncomfortable emotions. “It’s been a good reminder for me to step back and calm my emotions a little bit. Let me try to rephrase it in a way that I won’t be regretting how I say certain things to people,” Tsai said.

The organization also offers a number of volunteering oportunities, including coaching. “We’re always looking for different levels of volunteerism. Whether you want to be a coach, we will train you, you don’t need to come in with any kind of coaching experience. You don’t even need to be a runner. We have all the materials, all the curiculum,” Turrieta said.

Rhonda Cox was part of the committee that brought the organization to New Mexico in 2011. She’s been a coach for seven years and currently works with the girls at Northstar Elementary. “Girls on the Run gives girls confidence, physical activity, and a way to connect and build community with one another, all in a safe, team atmosphere while we train to run a 5K,” Cox said.

At the start of each practice, the girls will participate in an activity that follows the theme of that day. Then they stretch and warm-up before beginning their workout. Cox said they always try to make a game out of running laps to make it fun for the girls. Then the girls get together for the wrap-up where the girls have the chance to acknowledge the work their teammates have done or the sportsmanship they showed.

“Girls on the run is just one of the nearest and dearest things to my heart for the last 10 years now,” Cox said. “It helps girls be stronger physically and emotionally, and also to work on their self confidence, their self esteem, their friendship skills and their life skills as they go out and live their lives outside of Girls on the Run.”

The organization recently ended their 10-week season with the 5K Mariposa Women Run, a culmination of all the training they’ve done during the school year. They will announce registration for the next season on their website. For information on how to support the organization or to learn more about volunteering, visit their website.