The Historic Columbia Speedway in Cayce has hosted legends of racing including Richard Petty, but even the fans watching the King may not have been as excited as those who raced to the finish line Saturday.
There were no cars involved in this race, and every participant wore the same number: one. The Girls on the Run 5K brought more than 1,300 runners (third through eighth grade girls and their coaches and running buddies) to the speedway. Each of the girls worked hard to make it to the starting line. Each one went home a winner, with a medal to prove it.
Volunteer coaches, many of them teachers, work with small groups of girls at schools all over the Midlands in a 12-week course leading up to the 5K. They train for the run, but each practice begins with a lesson and discussion designed to encourage the girls and build their self-esteem.
“The girls learn to build the skills they need for the challenges they will face later in life,” said Girls on the Run Executive Director Mary Lohman. She said the volunteer coaches are a huge part of the organization’s success. Girls of the Run began in 1996 in Charlotte with just 13 girls participating. The organization, now nationwide, served more than 179,000 girls in 2015.
The joy on the faces of the girls as they crossed the finish line and claimed their medals Saturday was a clearer indication of success than the numbers. Times are not recorded at Girls on the Run races, and from the fastest runner to the slowest, no one is alone. Each girl has a running buddy: a parent, a coach, a sibling, another relative, or a friend. Many buddies crossed the line hand in hand Saturday. One buddy carried an exhausted girl across in his arms.
Every runner arrived to a heroine’s welcome, the track lined with cheering fans. Many of those who finished first joined the fans to support those who were still on the track. Asked what they liked most about Girls on the Run, the participants bubbled over with answers. “It’s really fun to run and make new friends.” “My coach is awesome.” “People run with you and you don’t have to go by yourself.” “I made new friends.” “The other girls are really nice and no one says mean things.” “Running makes me feel really good.”
The race was followed by a new addition this time, as the Junior League of Columbia hosted its Healthy Kids Fun Fair near the finish line. More than 20 vendors provided free healthy lifestyle lessons, vision and hearing screenings, exercise resources and healthy recipes. Race sponsors included the City of Cayce, Junior League of Columbia, Inc., Academy Sports + Outdoors, AgFirst, First Citizens, Pure Barre Irmo, Midlands Orthopedics, Mad Platter, Pitner Orthodontics, Palmetto Computer Consulting, NBSC, Bluestein, Nichols, Thompson & Delgado, LLC, Northside Baptist Church, Gregory Electric, Maggie Reade Photography, Logan Jay Photography, and Brueggers Bagels.
The words on the arch under which runners passed at the end of the race said it all: “The finish line is just the beginning.” More information on Girls on the Run is available here.