As outreach instructor for the Sarasota chapter of Girls on the Run, Whitney Bartlett can relate to the girls with whom she works.
In high school, Bartlett struggled with many of the same problems these young girls face today. She dealt with gossiping, body-image and self-esteem issues, and she struggled to find a sense of belonging. But, after a friend took her on a five-mile run during her sophomore year, the now-avid runner knew she had found her passion.
“After that run, I felt like I was being proactive in improving my self-confidence,” she says. “Running was what brought me peace and understanding, and it was a healthy way to battle my demons.”
In 2004, she learned about Girls on the Run, a national program designed to teach young girls healthy life lessons while they train for a 5K. The program’s mission resonated with her, and she decided to get involved.
“When I heard there was a program that could head off a lot of those issues before they really take effect in middle school, I knew it was the perfect job for me,” says Bartlett. “If I can help girls not go through what I did, then that’s amazing.”
Bartlett was influential in bringing the program to Sarasota, and after a year of hosting it through the YMCA in Venice, she partnered with Girls Incorporated of Sarasota County. She now serves as the liaison between the local and national chapter of Girls on the Run, and she says partnering with Girls Inc. has been a perfect fit, because the organizations have such similar mission statements.
Today, Bartlett is sitting with a small group of girls at Phillippi Shores Elementary. For the last 12 weeks, she’s worked with the girls to pass along valuable lessons and help them get in shape for the program’s upcoming annual 5K run at Nathan Benderson Park. This year marks the first time the 5K has been officially sanctioned by the Manasota Track Club, and more than 100 girls in grades three to five will participate. Other participating schools include Venice Elementary, Pine View, Gocio Elementary, Bay Haven Elementary, Laurel Nokomis School, Student Leadership Academy and Imagine Elementary North Port.
The group meets twice a week at the school, where they practice running, work out and talk about important issues, such as bullying, gossiping and conflict resolution. Today, they’re crafting thank-you notes for school employees they feel deserve more recognition. As they cut and paste, they laugh, sing songs and talk about the May 4 race, for which they’ve been training.
“It’s amazing to see their smiling faces as they cross the finish line,” says Bartlett. “And it’s great to be able to make that connection between healthy minds and healthy bodies. A lot more than running takes place on those laps.”
If you go: Girls on the Run 5K — takes place at 8 a.m. Saturday, May 4, at Nathan Benderson Park,
2500 N. Honore Ave., Sarasota. Cost is $30. Visit girlsincsrq.org/programs/girls-on-the-run.
Girls on the Run experience: First year
“I got started with (Girls on the Run) because my grandma thought it would be a good idea. I’m not nervous for the 5K. I’m just excited.”
Girls on the Run experience: Three years
“I’m excited for my last race. I love running, because I can go any speed I want, and I feel free.”