Running around their school field and doing drills just outside of the multi-purpose room, a team of girls from Kyrene de la Sierra Elementary School weren’t just training for their upcoming 5K in Tempe this Saturday, but also giving each other encouragement and learning self-esteem.

Part of the Maricopa County region for Girls on the Run, a nonprofit learning program with more than 200 councils in the United States and Canada, the girls are empowered to make healthy and wise choices, learn how to address bullying, peer pressure, and also bond with their team.

“They’ll role play experiences that they might be faced with as teenagers, and I think that reinforces what we as parents already try to teach at home but in a fun way,” said parent and council board member Jessica Everett-Garcia, who’s daughter, Hannah, has participated for four seasons. “She realized that if she puts one foot in front of the other, she can do anything.”

The team of about a dozen girls will be culminating their spring season with a 5K run at Kiwanis Park on April 27 in Tempe.

While running is one aspect of the program, since the event also establishes a healthy and active lifestyle, it serves as a prime example of taking on a difficult task.

“The major thing out of the whole group is having a goal for yourself and achieving that goal,” said coach Andrea Nissen.

During their practice last week, the girls each ran a short distance to a team member sitting in a chair, whispering a word of love or encouragement as they ran around the chair and back to the line.

“Running can be such an individual sport, but the great thing about this is the team-building exercises,” said Everett-Garcia. “They encourage each other and try to be supportive.”

Before going out to the field for laps and other activities, the girls huddled in a circle and told each other their favorite words of encouragement they heard from their teammates.

One spunky member on the team said an important lesson she learned was to do the things you love and not to listen to mean things people say.

“It’s instilling a lifelong belief in your own strength,” Everett-Garcia said.

For more information about the Girls on the Run Maricopa County Council, visit

• Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or Follow her on Twitter @dmartinezAFN.

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