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Girls on the Run teaches character development first, then running

Mar 09, 2018 12:27PM ● Published by Lori Gillespie

Heidi Moreton, executive director of Girls on the Run, prepares bins for coaches. (Lori Gillespie/City Journals)

Spring is in the air, and for many people that means getting outside to run. For the coaches and participants of Girls on the Run Utah, it means that and more. Starting March 12, girls from all over Utah will spend time each week developing leadership and team skills which will culminate in a 5K run in Sugar House Park on June 2.

Girls on the Run is a national organization that began 22 years ago and now reaches more than 200K girls each year. The program got its start in Salt Lake City 11 years ago with two schools—Rowland Hall and Mountain View Elementary. “After the first season it just took off and we haven’t stopped running,” said Heidi Moreton, executive director of Girls on the Run Utah.

“Even though our name suggests it, we are not a running program,” she said. “Our objective is in character development, first and foremost. Our mission is to bring girls joy and confidence through an interactive curriculum. We want the girls to set goals for themselves, work together as teams and then to work together in their community and give them the skills and toolset to lead healthy emotional and physical lives.” 

The Girls on the Run program follows a researched curriculum, which is regularly updated. The program, which runs each spring, starts by focusing on the girls as individuals. It helps them discover who they are and what they want to achieve. The next section moves into teamwork, and teaches them about bullying, healthy choices, and what healthy relationships look like. During the community curriculum stage, the girls decide as a group on a community impact project and they figure out how to make it happen. The running is intermixed throughout the program and helps them understand goal setting and achievement. The three-month program ends with the 5K and draws 6,000 people either running or watching. 

“The 5K really shows the girls that they are capable of completing hard things,” added Moreton.

This year the nearly 300 Utah coaches will coach 150 teams across eight counties. The coaches are trained on the curriculum during coaching sessions held in February along with some online training that is mandatory. Each coach gets a bin full of the lesson materials, running incentives, water bottles and cones. They also get an $100 gift card, so they can buy healthy snacks for the girls. 

Maddie Bossarte, a Girls on the Run junior coach and a sophomore at Judge Memorial High School, is starting her eighth year in the program. “I started in a new school in third grade and didn’t know anyone. My parents encouraged me to join so that I could make new friends. Because of Girls on the Run, I discovered that being active is fun, and that I love running.” 

As Bossarte aged out of the program, she wanted to give something back. “I like the Girls on the Run community because everyone is always so positive and happy. Coaching makes me feel like I am a role model for these young girls. I definitely want to be a junior coach the next few years and then work toward being a coach.”

The program helps to create friendships and break down barriers. All the girls wear the same T-shirts when they come together each week and the curriculum is inclusive. 

“There were girls who came into the program saying that they didn’t have any friends before joining Girls on the Run and now they see their teammates in school every day. The program brings them together and breaks down cliques and other negative girl behavior,” said Moreton.

This year’s program runs March 12 through June 2. Each of the 1,900 girls gets a running buddy, a mentor by her side to help her cross the finish line. It’s all about coming together so they can see everyone doing the same and learn that it’s okay to be whoever you are. 

Moreton added, “A little over 60 percent of our audience is low income, and to see all these walks of life, and to see the dads running with their daughters in pink tutus, it is a really cool, diverse group who come together in Salt Lake. It truly brings all walks of life together in such a healthy place.”

Girls on the Run also offers summer camps for young girls. Also, this year they are branching out to include women in their first Women’s Wellness Event that will be held on April 14 at the Blair IHC education center in Park City. 

“The Women’s Wellness Event includes life coaching activities. We are expecting around 150 women and our theme for the day and the year, ‘Actually, I Can.’ Proving that everyone can overcome situations in their life to make things happen, no matter how big or small the dream may be...” said Moreton. 

More information can be found at

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