(NEW YORK) — On Saturday, nearly 20,000 girls laced up their sneakers and hit the road in races across the country, and for many, it was their first time running more than three miles.
In 25 cities from Chicago to Baton Rouge, girls ages 8 to 12 competed in 5K races held by Girls on the Run, a nonprofit dedicated to helping them build confidence both on and off the track.
“The girls cheer for each other,” said Amanda Kuntsmann, head coach for Girls on the Run in Columbus, Ohio. “No matter if you’re slow or walking or fast, the important thing is we all move forward.”
During the program, elementary and middle-school-age girls meet with volunteer coaches in the classroom and on the track.
“These girls are learning, some of them, that they’re capable of doing more than they thought they could do,” Kuntsmann said.
Girls on the Run, which started in 1996 with 13 girls, has grown to more than 200 programs in all 50 states. It’s based in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The weekend’s 5K races were the culmination of about 10 weeks of confidence-building activities organized by the nonprofit.
This fall, 80,000 girls took part in the program, organizers said, and 20,000 ran in the final race.
But Kuntsmann emphasized that the race was not about winning.
“Every girl is number one in this race,” Kuntsmann told ABC News. “We just want them to make forward progress and cross the finish line so they have that feeling of empowerment and feeling of confidence and joy.”
Kuntsmann added that she wanted all of the girls to have “the experience of crossing the finish line regardless of what their pace was.”
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