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Girls' running club builds healthy bodies and minds

Posted by Chelsea Rice  February 24, 2014 09:13 AM

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For girls, the teen years are not only a time of transition, but for some can be a time of emotional challenges as well. One local nonprofit is hoping to change that by using running as a tool to not only help build healthy bodies, but healthy minds as well.


The Title IX Girls Running Club was started in 2007 by Stacy Rodriguez-Rennard, a clinical therapist who has spent her career working with adolescents exposed to trauma. She noticed a lack of preventive programs geared toward girls ages 9 to 15 years old, whose mental health needs, she believes, are often overlooked or misunderstood, and saw an opportunity to help.

The program is centered around what's called the Whole Girl Curriculum. Drawing on her background, Rodriguez-Rennard designed the Whole Girl Curriculum not only to focus on building the girls' physical strength, but also to enhance their emotional development by incorporating lessons on how to express confidence, mindfulness, compassion, and mental strength.

During the eight-week-long sessions, the girls meet every Tuesday night at Harvard University's indoor track and field facility.

The group spends the first 45 minutes working up a sweat. A handful of volunteer coaches led the participants through various drills and exercises that warm up their bodies and teach them about proper form and stride. Next, the girls broke off into small subsets, according to ability, and run lap after lap around the track. At the end, when their bodies are visibly tired, their faces remain bright and smiling.

The second component of Title IX involves journaling. The girls break off into three groups where they sit in a circle to write about their thoughts and feelings, as well as any issues they are having at school or at home. With the help of their coaches, they gradually share what they wrote and learn about healthy coping strategies and goal-setting.

While most Title IX girls are healthy teens, others have faced emotional or behavioral challenges such as eating disorders, depression, or ADHD. Regardless of where they fall along the spectrum, running acts as an equalizer, and the girls remain supportive of one another both on and off the track.

More than 500 girls have come through the program since its inception. Data collected so far from post-season evaluations demonstrates the benefits to the Title IX program. Girls (and their parents) report higher levels of self-confidence, an aversion to risky behaviors, and an overall sense of well-being. Title IX has even teamed up with researchers at Tufts University and hope to publish study at some point in the near future about their results.

Staying fit is an important part of staying healthy. This blog will offer exercise tips from experts as well as share the personal journeys of Globe staff members committed to fitness. No matter your age or energy level, we invite you to join in and share your own story. How do you find time to work out? What are your daily challenges? Let us know and read along -- and together, we can all get moving.

CONTRIBUTORS

Elizabeth Comeau is a social media marketing manager at Boston.com. She will be blogging about her personal fitness journey and using a device called a FitBit to track her weekly goals and progress (see below). Follow her journey and share your own. Read more about Elizabeth and this blog.

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