Student runs marathon to promote girls’ empowerment

file photo
file photo

Heart pounding, adrenaline racing and a surging sense of accomplishment. Ask any one of the participants in Girls on the Run about how they feel after completing a race, and you’re bound to get an enthusiastic answer.

Girls on the Run, a national organization that promotes empowerment and self-confidence in girls through exercise, has a new advocate: senior Natalie Patterson.

To support the organization, Patterson is running her third marathon to raise money to provide scholarships for girls to participate in the program. Her goal is to raise at least $500, enough to support three girls through the program.

Girls on the Run is a nationwide organization that sponsors a 12-week-long program that integrates running with curriculum centered on issues girls deal with, such as body image, bullying, relationships and internet use. The program currently serves over 130,000 girls across North America.

To end each season, participants complete a 5K event which gives the girls a tangible sense of achievement through accomplishing a once seemingly impossible task.

Volunteer coaches run with the elementary and middle school aged girls twice a week in preparation for the run; volunteer running buddies team up and run alongside an individual girl during the race to encourage them. The completion of this race helps the participants’ self-confidence and overall well-being.

Patterson, a former Calvin cross country athlete, can testify first-hand the importance running and fitness has had on her self-esteem and identity.

Her experience as a runner began in high school, with a goal to finish the one mile loop around her neighborhood without walking. Fast forward a few years and her two completed marathons stand as a testimony to her growth as a person through running.

“Running helps me focus on important things and teaches you what is most important in life,” she said.

She was motivated to run to support this organization during her cross country season, when she realized that there was something missing from the way she was participating in her sport.

“I wasn’t doing it for the right reasons. I wanted to win,” she said. “So I decided to do something to benefit someone else rather than running track.”

According to Patterson, Girls on the Run is a crucial organization to the development of girls because “that age demographic is formative for self-esteem and cliques start and people are excluded. Girls on the Run does a good job of getting girls’ minds on the right track and learning to encourage one another.”

To illustrate, she told a story about a disabled girl who was afraid of coming in last in the 5K event. After the rest of the team finished the race, they looped back to finish with their teammate.

“Every girl has dealt with the thought that ‘I’m not good enough,’” she said. “Running helps you see it doesn’t matter how fast you are, you can set a goal for yourself that you can accomplish.”

Patterson is also holding a crepe-making fundraiser this Thursday, March 20 at 5:30 p.m. in Hiemenga Hall 430. For a $2 donation, you will be able to support the organization while enjoying crepes.

To support Natalie, go to her fundraising page on raceplanner.com and search Natalie Patterson. To learn more about Girls on the Run and how you can get involved in this organization, visit girlsontherun.org.

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