Family turns Girls On The Run into team effort

Hal Marshall, and his granddaughters Grace, Ellie and daughter Kimberly Howell.

WEST CHESTER – At his age, Hal Marshall, a retired teacher from Tredyffrin/Easttown School District, figured there wasn’t much he hadn’t already seen. But next Saturday is expected to be like none other for him. That’s when his 49-year-old daughter, Kimberly, who has had learning disabilities since birth, and his twin nine-year-old granddaughters, Grace and Elle, are expected to cross the 5K finish line at West Chester East High School—together for the first time. They will be joined by 3,000 fellow participants.

It all started last fall when Grace, a third-grader at East Pikeland Elementary School, enrolled in Girls on the Run, a program of the YMCA of Greater Brandywine that leverages the power of running to help kids build their self-esteem, while improving their emotional and physical health.

Twice a week for 10 weeks, Grace participated in roundtable discussions with her peers focused on character building, self-confidence, conflict resolution, healthy living and giving back to the community. Led by volunteer coaches, the discussions were followed by training sessions for the 5K, the culmination of the program, which Grace ran and completed last December. Marshall was there when Grace crossed the finish line.

“There was no doubt in her mind that she could do it; and her achievement on the morning of December 3 worked miracles for her,” he says.

Inspired by Grace’s achievement, her sister, Elle, joined the program this past spring. Each girl in the program runs the 5K with a buddy or running coach, and Elle asked Kimberly, her aunt who has had learning disabilities since birth, to be her running coach.

“Kimberly has never been a runner, but when Elle asked her, she didn’t hesitate in saying yes,” says Marshall.

Kimberly then asked her dad if she could start running with him and his buddy, Dan Reichert, an 83-year-old retired Navy Seal, at the West Chester Area YMCA. While Hal and Dan had been going to the Y several times a week for more than five years, Kimberly had never shown interest. But now, she had a reason and she has faithfully trained for the last seven months, even losing more than 20 pounds.

“It has been inspiring to watch. Today, when she runs around the track, she proudly gives me the thumbs up. She’s really become part of the crowd and has lots of Y members cheering her on,” says Marshall, who will probably be cheering the loudest next weekend.

Wendy Young, who has been the program coordinator for Girls on the Run at the YMCA of Greater Brandywine for three years, speaks with passion. “I am always inspired by the girls in our program and the many adults who volunteer to serve as coaches. Seeing the confidence and achievement of the girls is exactly what the YMCA mission is all about – helping kids realize their full potential, develop healthy habits for life and understand the power of giving back to our community.”

Marshall, his daughter and granddaughters, will be among more than 3,000 people at the Chester County Girls on the Run and STRIDE 5K next weekend. (STRIDE is a program similar to Girls on the Run, but serves boys in grades three through eight.) More than 1,200 third through eighth grade youth representing over 75 Chester County schools are scheduled to run with a buddy or coach. This is the largest expected turnout ever. The event begins with a high-energy kick-off celebration at 8:30, with the 5K starting at 9 a.m. The first participants are expected to cross the finish line by 9:30.

“I can’t wait. I was so inspired when Grace ran in December by how many kids participated. It is an incredible event,” says Marshall, who will anxiously be waiting to see his daughter and granddaughters cross the 5K finish line next weekend.

The event is generously sponsored by M&T Bank, Office Basics, Octane Fitness, BB&T, LaMont Tea and Coffee, VISTA Today and CTDI. To ensure that all youth have access to quality programming, the YMCA of Greater Brandywine has provided financial assistance to approximately 20% of this season’s program participants.

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