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Girls on Run program preaches positivity

The Girls on the Run group in Platte performs the bug during the awards ceremony Tuesday at Platte Elementary School for the completion of the program. (Sean Ryan/Republic) 1 / 4
Madison Nachtigal, 9, of Platte, reacts to winning the Dig Deep Award at the Girls on the Run awards ceremony Tuesday at Platte Elementary School. (Sean Ryan/Republic) 2 / 4
Addy Boltjes, 10 of Platte, dances in the center of the group during the Girls on the Run awards ceremony at the Platte elementary school Tuesday. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)3 / 4
The Girls on the Run group in Platte perform the bug during their awards ceremony for the completion of the program at the Platte elementary school Tuesday. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)4 / 4

By Jessica Giard

For The Daily Republic

PLATTE — Life is not about winning, being the fastest, the prettiest or the most popular girl in the room. It is about walking a little higher.

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That is the core lesson Karen Lang impresses upon the 23 third- through sixth-grade girls who spent the last 10 weeks in Platte’s Girls on the Run program, which just finished its second season recently.

“It’s about giving them confidence,” said Lang, the lead volunteer coach. “We take a look at being emotionally and mentally healthy. Unplugging the bad stuff and plugging in the good stuff, we say.”

Girls on the Run operates with 150 councils in the United States and Canada. The Platte program works under the Sioux Falls council through EmBe, formerly the YWCA.

Girls in the 10-week program meet twice each week. Lessons center on physical activity, specifically training for a season-end 5K run, and supporting healthy social and emotional development. The girls look at the issues they might face at that age, including bullying, gossip, body image and development.

“You’re choosing to walk a little higher and set your standards a little higher,” Lang said. “Be a leader, not a follower.”

At the end, the girls compete in the optional 5,000-meter fun run. All 23 girls from Platte finished the run Sunday at Yankton Trails Park in Sioux Falls. In total, 500 girls, friends and family from programs in the Sioux Falls area participated.

“To complete a 5K, that’s pretty empowering for some of those kids,” Lang said.

Madison Nachtigal, 9, of Platte, said her favorite part of the program was running in the 5K. This is the first year Nachtigal has been in the program that she “wanted to try it, and it was really fun this year.” She plans on doing it again next year.

Madison’s mother, Alisha Nachtigal, said her daughter has always been positive, but the program “boosted her confidence more in herself.”

The biggest impact of the program she saw was the positive atmosphere, and the girls “really looked out for each other and they will look out for each other the rest of the year.”

The run is not timed, and all participants receive medals. That puts the focus on finishing, not competing.

Lang admits that some of the girls in the program will be successful in track and cross country in the future, but that’s not the point. For one girl Lang ran with Sunday, the run was tough.

“She had to dig,” Lang said. “Toward the end, she said, ‘If I can do this, I can do anything.’ That’s empowering. She did it and she knows that she can.”

The girls in the program also pull from the social aspect of Girls on the Run.

“It’s just fun because you meet a whole bunch of new girls. You get to know them so well,” Addy Boltjes, 10, said. This is her second year.

She and Kelly Sondgeroth, 10, agree that support from their friends helped them finish the run. They also agree that Girls on the Run has helped them become better people.

“I learned a lot about what girls do that they shouldn’t and ... everything that you should be doing,” said Sondgeroth, also in her second year.

Boltjes said she’s also learned how to be a better runner.

“With running, you learn to run your own race, not anyone else’s,” she said.

Lang is positive Girls on the Run has been good for the girls when she hears them say they can’t wait until next year.

“That’s the biggest compliment I can get,” Lang said. “If you can say that after a 5K and you’re exhausted, that’s a pretty good take on the program.”