DeKALB – Amaya Zimmerman didn’t want to run a 5K without the support of her family.
The Somonauk Middle School seventh-grader had about 16 family members cheering her on Saturday at the finish line of the Girls on the Run 5K. Her family all had on pink shirts to show their support.
“She’s always been pretty top notch in my book,” said John Earle, Zimmerman’s uncle and running buddy. “She’s still awesome.”
Amaya was one of 111 girls to participate in DeKalb County’s first Girls on the Run 5K race, which was at Hopkins Park in DeKalb. Each runner had a running buddy and was given a medal after finishing.
Girls on the Run is a national program that teaches girls how to deal with bullying and live a healthy lifestyle. In the 10-week program, girls meet after school two days a week for 1½ hours to learn life lessons and do running activities, said Naomi Faivre, DeKalb County coordinator for Girls on the Run.
Girls on the Run is in seven schools in the county. There are eight running teams with a maximum of 15 girls on one team, Faivre said.
Girls on the Run has more than 200 councils across the United States and started in DeKalb County in 2010, said Laurie Dayon, executive director for Girls on the Run Northwest Illinois.
Somonauk Middle School seventh-grader Grace Ballas said she joined Girls on the Run because she thought it would help her deal with problems with boys and peer pressure.
Grace has seen emotional bullying at her school before and has heard people call others mean names, but she has learned how to deal with it.
“I forget what they say and plug in my sparkly cord,” she said. The cord is a mental device used to teach the girls how to feel better about themselves.
Jackie Pringle said she has seen a difference in her daughter, Justine, a fourth-grader at Littlejohn Elementary School in DeKalb.
“She’s a little more confident now and has more motivation,” Pringle said.
Justine also learned how to stick up for other students when they are being bullied, Pringle said.
Each participating school has two coaches for the girls. Littlejohn coach and fourth-grade teacher Carrie Horlock cheered and had a big smile on her face each time a runner crossed the finish line.
“They worked really hard,” she said. “At the beginning after the first practice, I thought they’d be walking most of the time [at the 5K]. They know now they can do anything they want to.”
James R. Wood Elementary School coach Jen Johnson has both of her daughters in the program, and she said her younger daughter was a victim of bullying. She said some girls don’t know how to stand up for themselves before joining the program.
“They’re all so confident [now],” she said. “Who they are is exactly who they should be.”
To join Girls on the Run or to donate, visit www.gotrnwil.org.