More than 600 kids expected to celebrate with 5K run

The 2015 event was a big success and this year looks to be even better, YMCA officials say.

The 2015 event was a big success and this year looks to be even better, YMCA officials say.

DOWNINGTOWN — More than 600 girls and boys from the Girls on the Run and STRIDE after-school programs at the YMCA of Greater Brandywine will celebrate their achievements with a 5K run on Dec. 3, beginning at 9 a.m.

These dedicated runners will take to the track at Downingtown West High School, 445 Manor Ave., Downingtown, as the culmination of three months of training in their respective programs. The public is invited to cheer on the teams.

“People are always blown away watching the growth and dedication of these kids,” said Denise L. Day, CEO of the YMCA of Greater Brandywine. “This event represents an exciting wrap up for programs that help boys and girls develop on several levels. Each leaves feeling stronger, wiser and more confident than when they entered.”

Both 10-week programs, designed for students in grades 3 through 8, give participants the opportunity to reach individual athletic goals and build self-respect through games, running and learning about healthy living without the pressure of competition.

“This really is one of the coolest things we do here at the Y, and it has lasting impact on thousands of lives,” Day said. “These programs are not just about running. They instill an awareness of decision-making and team-building along with fitness and nutrition – all tools that will help them find success in school and life.”

Nationally, the Girls on the Run 5K is sponsored by Athleta, FOX Sports, Cigna, Smartwool and Asics.

Founded in 1997, Girls on the Run is an international program. It was established locally in 2007 to encourage girls to reach their own athletic goals while working with and supporting others, redefining personal accomplishment along the way. Through discussing important issues, girls are empowered with a greater sense of self-awareness, the ability to function as a team and a sense of achievement that helps them become strong, confident women.

STRIDE, developed by the YMCA of Greater Brandywine in 2010, offers similar opportunities to elementary and middle school boys. STRIDE stands for Success + Teamwork + Respect + Inspiration + Determination + Excellence in Character. As part of the program, boys are offered safe, supportive environments to challenge themselves physically, build character and discuss life topics. The Chester County-born program now operates across the country.

“The confidence these kids gain from training for, running and completing the 5K is great for their self-esteem,” said Wendy Young, program coordinator for youth running at the Y. “There are so many positive aspects of this program and they fold into the 5K at the end. It just shows them they can do anything.”

Participants train during 90-minute sessions after school. They not only run, but also play games and discuss cooperation, good nutrition, community service, positive body image and resisting substance abuse.

“The 5K isn’t a race, but instead a celebration of each participant’s personal achievement,” said Nate Robinson, who helps coordinate the Y’s sports programs. “The emphasis isn’t on competition, but instead on everyone finishing at their own pace.”

West Chester’s Rose Manion and her husband, John, have seen two of their kids – Ian, 15, and Molly, 13 – complete each program. Their youngest son, Declan, 9, is in his first year of STRIDE.

In Ian, the program has instilled a lifelong love of running, she said. He now competes at the high school level in cross country racing. For Molly, the family’s natural athlete, the program taught her to push through adversity and physical challenges. And for Ian, she said the program has provided her most competitive child to learn to challenge himself in addition to those around him.

“It’s really helped them to be more confident and be more thoughtful peers,” Manion said. “I think it helped them develop a maturity and a sense of responsibility that might not have come without the program.”

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