Mary Hansen wrapped raw hands around a cup of coffee, grateful for its warmth.
Gratitude of another sort caught in her throat as she shouted encouragement to the last runners turning onto Sweet Briar College’s Quad Road. They were in the home stretch of the fall 2011 Girls on the Run of Greater Lynchburg 5K, a giant pink and green inflatable arch marking the finish squarely in their sights.
“I always tear up when I see the teams running their girls in,” said Hansen, the director of the Greater Lynchburg Council. She meant when the early finishers go back out together to bring in their teammates who might be struggling.
About 475 8- to 13-year old girls from 45 Central Virginia teams raced on Saturday, Nov. 19. It was the first time Sweet Briar hosted the local council’s 5K, the result of a partnership between two organizations with a shared mission to educate and empower women.
More than 25 Sweet Briar students and a dozen staff and faculty volunteered their time or cheered the runners along the course. And it was no cakewalk.
The hardest part was “when we had to walk up this really, really, really, really, really, really big hill,” said 8-year-old Georgia Trainum of Charlottesville, referring to Monument Hill.
Georgia’s older sisters Emma and Megan ran with her, although she is the only one of her siblings to complete Girls on the Run’s 12-week program. The New Balance Celebration 5K Run/Walk is the final challenge.
Eileen Trainum, Georgia’s mother, was attracted to the national organization’s mission to “inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running.”
“I love the idea of it,” Trainum said. The program focuses on self-esteem and giving young girls the tools to make good decisions as they enter their teens and adulthood, but it’s emphasis on physical fitness also appealed to her.
It’s not all about self, though. The biggest lessons Georgia took away? “That you shouldn’t be a bully and you should be positive,” she said, nibbling on a tube of Go-GURT.
Positivity was a theme heard over and over among the racers. Ten-year-old Harmony Matts of Liberty Christian Academy described an exercise where they imagined plugging in their “positive” cords.
“If you don’t have your cord plugged in, you are negative,” she said, making a fist and planting it on top of her head to demonstrate.
Matts was evidently plugged in as she queued up at the start line under a brilliant blue sky that accounted for a beautiful but frosty morning. She finished the “fun and very pretty except for the uphills” 3.1-mile course in 35 minutes, close to the frontrunners.
Her mother, Shay Matts, was among hundreds of shivering spectators and volunteers who filled the upper quad and dell to support the girls.
“The last thing she said to me before the race was that she was going to win, ” Matts said.
Find more photos here on the Sweet Briar Facebook page.