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Published April 02, 2019
A running program started in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Wyoming and now entering its ninth year emphasizes goal setting and life skills for young girls.
The program could trace its roots to 1967, when Syracuse University journalism student Katherine Switzer set a goal to compete in and finish the men-only Boston Marathon. She would become the first woman to finish the marathon, frenzied male hands ripping at her race number to stop her. The landmark is part of National Women’s History Month.
Laramie-area second- through sixth-graders benefit from the She’s A Runner Girl (SARG) program created via a leadership class offered through the college.
Peggy McCrackin, who took the class while pursuing her master’s degree, could have just written a paper to satisfy the requirements of the “Understanding Community Leadership” course. Instead, she wrote the paper and started SARG with friends and fellow runners Jackie Walker and Ann Saffer. Information is available at www.shesarunnergirl.org/.
The six-week, all-girl program begins in April and ends May 11 with the second annual Purple 5K, which is open to the public. SARG focuses on fun and movement in addition to goal setting, says McCrackin’s daughter, Kali McCrackin Goodenough, a SARG coach and co-director, who works in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
The program is not about competition and works to emphasize positive self-talk instead of body shape and weight, she says.
Coaches help girls see they can accomplish their goals, whether big or small.
“A lot of times, it’s the mental barriers we help the girls overcome,” says McCrackin Goodenough. “We help them believe they can do whatever their goals are, whether that is running faster, making a new friend or doing well on their next test.”
Fifty girls and 14 coaches participated that first year and, by 2017, 92 girls and 43 coaches took part. Safety is first, fun is next, and third is simply moving.
“People may say, ‘Oh, a running program. That doesn’t sound fun,’” McCrackin Goodenough says. “But we play games and participate in team-building activities. If you have ever met Peggy, she’s the most high-energy person you could imagine. She gets the girls all excited and engaged in what they are doing. She stirs up that energy and makes it enjoyable.”
Department of Family and Consumer Sciences graduate Erin Lindorfer, now a dietician at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, participated as a coach while taking UW classes. She watched girls learn healthy physical activities and gain self-confidence.
Lindorfer says many girls and women use physical activity as a way to lose weight or when they think they’ve eaten something unhealthy. She says being active can be so much more.
“I think it’s important to help girls at a younger age learn that being active is fun, and it makes us feel good,” she says. “I think it is helpful for any woman at any age to be in that kind of environment.”
The girls-only element is important, she says.
“It helps girls to support each other and grow together,” Lindorfer says. “Every girl in the program is not only learning about being active; they are learning about working with others, making new friends, and they are learning they can all succeed together. I think the relationships these girls can build are incredibly important.”
Enette Larson-Meyer is an associate professor in the human nutrition and food program option in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences. She’s a member of the adjunct clinical faculty in the Division of Kinesiology and Health Promotion at UW. She is a runner and was a SARG coach.
“Now, we have so many sports for girls, and we have a lot more role models, and even the fact we have research we can call upon,” says Larson-Meyer.
The accepted climate surrounding running when she was growing up included alleging extreme health risks for women.
“Why would you say women can’t run because their uterus will fall out?” Larson-Meyer says. “In yoga, you were questioned whether or not you should do yoga during your menstrual cycle. Excuse me? Why are you saying that? Why would you even think that?”
She coached SARG because she believes becoming involved in a sport early is important for the young, to figure out it can be fun and create lifelong, healthy habits.
McCrackin Goodenough says SARG helps the older girls move into new phases of their lives.
“In sixth grade, you are starting to enter that phase of life in school where friendships are hard, life is changing, and you are changing,” McCrackin Goodenough says. “I think the program helps girls look at themselves and say, ‘I can be my own best friend and advocate’ and, if need be, build each other up.”
She was the last runner in seventh grade but became one of the top runners on the cross country team at Laramie High School and team captain.
“It helped turn me from a super shy, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can’t do anything’ kind of kid to someone leading a team with confidence,” McCrackin Goodenough says.
She now looks at the program through the eyes of a grown woman and mother of a young daughter.
“I think it’s super beneficial to have a program for girls and women, with girls supporting girls and women supporting women,” she says. “We have a shared experience in being female, and this program is one way we are able to support each other.”