Barker aims to inspire girls through running

The All-College Hour speaker on Wednesday Feb. 11 was Girls on the Run founder Molly Barker. GOTR is a nonprofit organization that strives to provide a positive experience for adolescent girls. According to Barker, the organization’s main goals are to foster a “strong sense of self-esteem and self-worth amongst girls, as well as to put an end to the objection of women.”

The program began in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1996 with only 13 girls and has since grown to work with over 150,000 girls with more than 120,000 volunteers all across North America.

The programs, which take place in over 190 cities in the United States and Canada, consist of 12 weeks divided into three main components.

Barker explained that the first segment of the program deals with “the girls all coming together, figuring out who they are and what they believe in.” The second part focuses on “how to get along with others, become a better listener and stop the gossip chain that is so common for girls during adolescence.” The third centers on a community project carried out by the individual girl. Each program culminates in a celebratory 5K run that the girls train for throughout each week.

Barker also shared her life experiences leading to the birth of GOTR.

“When I was 11 years old, I moved to a private school and felt invisible,” she said. “I was excited for the yearly physical in gym class so I could run the mile and impress all of the other students, since I loved running.” Unfortunately, she ended up spraining her ankle during the run. This is when she first stepped into what she now refers to as the “girlbox.”

“The girlbox is a place where girls go around that age and succumb to culture’s perception of who we are, where we begin to thing negative thoughts about ourselves and what we are capable of,” Barker said.

During another turbulent time in her life––her 30s––Barker explained that she struggled with alcoholism. She ended up deciding to take a run one day––something she had not done in months––and felt dramatically different.

“Running was an escape for me and it ultimately helped lift me out of my dark spot,” she said. “[I realized that] I had been allowing people to define me by words and labels. Every description suddenly fell away.” Barker emphasized that she founded GOTR to show girls that “you are enough; you are absolutely fantastic the way you are.”

GOTR has carried out programs all over the U.S. and Canada and has received requests to expand to other countries as well. Barker’s next project is the Red Boot Coalition, which seeks to expand the message of GOTR to other demographics.

Barker noted that she is very passionate about stressing the importance of helping others.

“If you are present for another person, you have just changed the world,” she said.