RAMSEY, N.J. — It’s not what Merrill Simpson’s adolescent girls are running for twice a week at the Fardale Church — it’s for whom.
As in: themselves.
The 12-week Girls on the Run program is a celebration of individuality during which the Heart and Sole coach gets 20 or so girls talking about the things that matter most in life.
Then they run.
“Guaranteed for three hours a week, exactly who the girls are is exactly who they need to be,” said Simpson, who is in her eighth season with Girls on the Run , the national nonprofit organization that sponsors Heart and Sole. “They’re validated, celebrated, encouraged, and that’s an amazing thing in their lives because it’s not always happening.”
The program will run for the first time nationally this season as Heart and Sole, formerly Girls on Track, with a new curriculum and a focus on issues such as puberty, drugs and alcohol and self-esteem.
“As you progress into middle school, the pressure to to blend in increases,” said Simpson, whose 12-year-old daughter, Charlie, has voluntarily been on her team almost every year. “I think you start losing the best parts of who you are if you think what makes you unique sets you apart.”
Simpson, of Ramsey, begins each session with a discussion of the day’s topic before she sends the girls out to run and process the information.
The 5K at the end of each season serves as motivation, Simpson said.
"The that act of moving is meditative, and if we put something in their head and they run, they’ll naturally work through what we’re talking about," said Simpson, who shares her personal struggles and stories with her team.
"My main motivation for doing it is to nurture girls during this time in their lives," Simpson said. "It can be an exciting but really challenging time, and if I can help them hold on to themselves through those years, that would be amazing work done."
Girls on the Run is seeking volunteer coaches. For more,
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