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Get ready for Asheville's final 5Ks of the year

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12/7/2012 - Get ready for Asheville's final 5Ks of the year
by Karen Chavez - Asheville Citizen Times

ASHEVILLE -- Watch out for a horde of runaway girls this weekend.

The Girls on the Run of Western North Carolina Fall 5K will bring some 1,500 runners and spectators to the UNC Asheville campus Saturday, an exhibition of determination, confidence, hard work and sheer girl power.

One of the largest 5Ks in Asheville, the annual race is a culmination of a semesterlong training program for girls in the third to eighth grades in WNC and reflects the success of this nonprofit program working to improve the health and self-esteem of girls at a formative age.

"We are (marking) our 10th-year anniversary," said GOTR executive director Amy Renigar. "When it started out in 2002, there were two teams with 14 girls. Now we have 48 teams with 639 girls participating this fall.

"We tend to grow 10 percent every year. Over the course of the program, we have served over 6,500 girls."

Girls on the Run, founded by Rachelle Sorensen-Cox, works to "inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident." Volunteer coaches work with girls to develop self-respect and healthy lifestyles through running. The 12-week program is celebrated with a 5K, or 3.1-mile race, each spring and fall.

The program is now bigger than ever, with 40 schools and two community sites -- the YWCA and Pisgah View Apartments -- in 14 WNC counties, and its first home-school team in Jackson County. With 250 councils across the country and a program in Canada, Renigar said Girls on the Run International has served more than 72,000 girls.

Two of them are Asheville girls who will be running their first 5K Saturday -- cousins Rashida Dixon, 9, and Precious Dixon, 10, who attend Oakley Elementary School.

"It helped me be better at running," Rashida said of the GOTR program. "We run after school on Mondays and Thursdays. I feel happy and excited. I'm going to try to run the whole way."

"I think it's a good program. I've noticed a lot of changes in Rashida," said her grandmother, Sarah Dixon, of Shiloh. "She has a lot more energy and wants to do more things as far as exercising. It didn't used to be important to her. Now, since she's been in GOTR she wants to do these things. She wants to play basketball."

Sarah Dixon said a trip to the doctor determined that Rashida was borderline diabetic and needed to change her exercise and diet or risk having to start taking medication to control her blood sugar.

"I guess she's motivated to do it," Sarah Dixon said of her granddaughter's running. "She doesn't want to take medicine and shots. Now she does zumba and the 'Just Dance' on Wii. And she can count carbs better than you and me. She has lost weight. I see a positive change in her attitude."

Sarah Dixon plans to be a part of the cheering throngs who will line the race course on Saturday and watch as Rashida and Precious run by with their adult running buddies.

Runaway success

Renigar said the physical and emotional improvements seen in the Dixon girls is typical of GOTR participants. Each girl is asked to pay $125 per semester, but Renigar said it is a sliding fee, and no one is turned away for inability to pay.

Volunteer coaches -- typically female teachers, parents, older siblings or community runners -- work with the girls twice a week. Program results are tracked by pre- and post-program surveys.

The survey asks the girls questions such as how they feel about their body, how frequently they eat healthy snacks, if they have ever run a 5K, how frequently they engage in physical activity, positive vs. negative attitudes and if they can identify bullying behavior.

"We have a statistician at UNCA who analyzes the data," Renigar said. "What we consistently find is that girls who consistently participate in GOTR have improved self-image and have a more realistic sense of their bodies. They have increased amounts of physical fitness and increased awareness of bullying behavior and how their actions impact people in their lives and the larger community in general."

In addition to GOTR girls and their running buddies, community members are invited to run in what Renigar calls "the least stressful and most relaxed 5K ever."

There is no timing and no prizes for the fastest runners. The focus is on finishing, cheering each other on and accomplishing goals, she said.

"It's really life-changing for girls and often for th eir families. This is often the first 5K for the whole family," said Renigar, who has also volunteered as a coach.

Final 2012 runs

The GOTR 5K is one of several with a holiday theme that will close out the racing scene in WNC this year.

The Toys for Tots 5K, hosted by Henderson County Parks and Recreation, starts at 4 p.m. Saturday at Jackson Park in Hendersonville. Runners are asked to bring a toy as entry fee, which will be donated to the nonprofit Toys for Tots.

Also on Saturday is the Fletcher Reindeer Run 5K, hosted by the Four Seasons Running Club, which starts at 5 p.m. at Fletcher Community Park.

The inaugural Sleigh Ride 5K is Dec. 15 at the Asheville Christian Academy in Swannanoa. Head cross-country and track coach Henry Weaver said he got the idea for the nighttime race after having directed them at Madison High School.

"It's a little different; it brings in the Christmas spirit," Weaver said. "We light the course with luminaries and play Christmas music. The course is the school cross-country course, and goes on grass and wood chip trail, with no road crossings at all. It goes close to the school building so the school lights will be on."

He said the course is "very flat and very fast with only one hump, no real hills," so runners have a good chance at a personal record. To sweeten the Christmas spirit, there are cash prizes to the top three overall male and female finishers.

And for those who just don't plan to run anymore this year, the very first race of 2013 is set for 2 p.m. Jan. 1 in Biltmore Forest. The Asheville Track Club-sponsored run is free to club members.

"It's noncompetitive, so there is something for everyone at the finish," said race director Dolly McLean. "If you aren't a member, you can join on the spot and get an ATC T-shirt and run the race. It's a great way to start off the new year."

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