By Beth Lawrence


Two Jackson County schools will participate in this year’s Girls on the Run race in Asheville. 

This year Cullowhee Valley Elementary and the Catamount School have groups of girls participating in the semester-long program, which aims to encourage girls to be more active and to cultivate strength and self-confidence.

This year’s race theme is Great Beginnings & Great Smiles.

Amanda Olsen’s 9-year-old-daughter, Sophia Weaver, is participating in her first year with the program. Olsen was on hand to encourage Sophia at a recent practice running session gearing up for the 5K.

“They sit and talk about endurance and life lessons about being nice,” Olsen said. “Sophia enjoys it. I think she does it more for the friends sake, but she’s actually going to try to do the whole seven laps around today.”

Olsen believes that the program has had a positive impact on her daughter.

The program consists of classroom exercises and exercise sessions.

“We start with our in class (sessions)where we’re talking about helping the girls see who they are as a person and letting their inner light shine through their words and their actions, how to combat negative self-talk, how to be more positive and how to identify when we’re angry or upset or happy and verbalize those emotions,” said Coach Paula Fox.

Fox is an AIG specialist at Cullowhee Valley School who volunteer to coach Girls on the Run.

The class addresses bullying and how to stand up to bullies both for themselves and others. The girls do stretching exercises and set a “lap goal” for that day. After the girls have run laps, they set goals for the week ahead or the next meeting and discuss how to put classroom topics into action. Sessions are twice a week.

There is a charge for the class, but it is set up on a sliding scale depending upon the families’ financial situation.

Fox has seen the positive impact on girls in her class. She’s seen some shy girls open up in class and others go from being too shy to run to happily running laps. She has also seen the girls find their voices against unacceptable behavior in others.

“Everybody is different,” she said. “It’s kind of like everybody’s got buttons. And you never know which button you’re pushing to help them realize their potential. So the girls are at all different levels depending on how they are accepting of this information.”

Cullowhee Valley has 15 girls participating in this year’s program, and 12 from the Catamount School have joined.

Upwards of 450 girls from third through eighth grade in Western North Carolina counties worked with volunteer coaches at 30 sites for 10 weeks.

“In the face of social pressures and societal challenges, Girls on the Run empowers young women to embrace their full potential,” said Carolyn Morrisroe, Girls on the Run of WNC board member. 

The course uses “research-based” educational materials, activities and running games to help girls beyond the physical level.