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Celebrating International Day of the Girl

October 11 is International Day of the Girl. Designated by the United Nations General Assembly in 2011, the day promotes the empowerment of girls and women, recognizes girls’ rights, and acknowledges the challenges faced by girls around the world.

Within the running community, it’s only in recent history that girls and women have been included. Take the marathon for example. The first modern Olympic marathon for men took place in 1896, but the women’s event didn’t exist on an Olympic level until 1984.

Despite delayed access to the sport, women and girls have made huge strides to establish their place in the running world. Women’s participation continues to grow in all distances, and records continue to fall. In the marathon, 511 women met the 2020 Olympic trials qualifying standard (compared with 260 male qualifiers), making it the largest field of trials qualifiers in history.

Running has a unique ability to bring people together for a common goal, whether it’s better health, improved performance, or raising funds and support for a cause. Today we highlight women and girls who have used running as a vehicle for positive change.

Fleet Feet’s original founders were two young women in their twenties. Sally Edwards and Elizabeth Jansen opened the very first Fleet Feet store together in 1976 on the second floor of a fixer-upper Victorian house in Sacramento, California, during a time when running stores were a new concept, as well as a field dominated by men.

Working seven days a week with one shoe brand in stock and a shoe box for a register, Edwards and Jansen focused their efforts on community outreach. Using a refurbished US Postal Service van, the two drove to area high schools to fit student athletes as well as support Sacramento’s first running club.

After a year, sales crept up, enticing other brands to become vendors. As business grew, the entrepreneurs had the opportunity to open a second location in the town of Chico. Their success continued and eventually they shifted the business to a franchise model, leading to stores owned locally in cities and towns across the country. The courage and determination of these two young women established Fleet Feet’s foundation to inspire, empower and educate runners of all abilities, ages and backgrounds, now in over 170 locations.

Led by Owner and CEO Jay Ell Alexander, Black Girls RUN! (BGR) is a program for women that inspires all women regardless of race or pace. There is a huge misconception that Black women don’t run, and BGR has been dispelling that myth as they bring women together in a fun, welcoming environment to run, walk, and support each other. As group runs have come to a halt during the pandemic, BGR has adapted quickly to keep their members safe...and motivated! They keep the inspiration flowing through innovative and community-supporting virtual challenges like E-Race Racism, Race to the Polls and installations of the Civil Rights Race Series.

Kaitlyn Lee (12) of Huntsville, Alabama, uses running as a platform to raise funds for kids who are battling cancer. Last year we interviewed Lee and her mother about her goal to raise $100,000 for the Jessie Rees Foundation, encouraging kids battling cancer to “Never Ever Give Up.”

Lee has been running since she was seven, and continues to pursue big goals. As of October 2020, she has raised $75,410 for the Jessie Rees Foundation and over $10,000 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Now in 7th grade, Lee is running for the Huntsville High School cross country team and was placed on the varsity squad. Her mother, Nina, says, “she is currently in the top 10 on varsity and loving it!”

Led by CEO Elizabeth Kunz, Girls on the Run (GOTR) uses a fun, research-based curriculum to teach pre-teen girls about self-respect, confidence and healthy lifestyles. The program gets girls running, but it’s about so much more. Evidence shows that GOTR has a stronger impact than PE classes or other organized sports for teaching girls life skills that they use at home and in social situations.

While councils face different challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, GOTR has provided resources to keep kids and families active virtually, and the skills for coping and stress management are needed now more than ever. GOTR also motivates adults through the Solemates program. Participants commit to a fitness-related goal, then raise funds and awareness to support kids through GOTR.

Latinas Run and Latinos Run were founded by Maria Solis, who is on a mission to champion health and wellness in the Latinx community. Solis founded the groups in New York City and the community has grown to serve over 25,000 runners across the world, via in-person groups and a supportive online community.

Recently we interviewed Zoilabella Calo to learn how walking and running changed her life, and how Solis’s example inspired her to start her own Latinos Run group in Glendale, Arizona. This community has inspired runners of all genders, ages backgrounds and abilities to connect and challenge themselves to live healthier lives.

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