The megaphone echoed through the charged morning air as the first wave of determined racers lined up. “Three ... two ... one ... Go!,” and they were off in a flurry of tutus and bright yellow Justice shirts.
They ran, walked and skipped their way down the road lined with supporters and pink streamers, some choosing to hold hands the whole 3.1 miles.
Girls on the Run is the philanthropy of USC’s Gamma Phi Beta. According to the official website, it is a 10-week program for girls in the third through eighth grade to “develop essential skills to help them navigate their worlds and establish a lifetime appreciation for health and fitness.”
The program meets every Tuesday and Thursday after school. It starts with a snack, where the girls are encouraged to chat with the coaches and others in the program. After snack, the coaches teach their group a lesson about healthy lifestyles, and follow that with a corresponding running activity.
Gamma Phi Beta partners with the organization as coaches, leading groups in biweekly lessons and exercises focused on how to live a healthy lifestyle. Lessons cover topics such as "healthy relationships, how to look at your body ... how to deal with situations in a healthy way" and more, according to Katie Kalinowski, the former president of the sorority.
Kalinowski, a fourth-year merchandising student, said this proactive, hands-on approach is what made her interested in joining Gamma.
“The basis of the program, even though it’s called Girls on the Run, isn’t running," Kalinowski said. “It really makes members of our chapter a lot more appreciative for — it's gonna sound so dumb and cheesy, being a sorority person — but see the power of positive female friendships and positive female, just, interactions.”
Hannah Gilhool, a fourth-year biology student, has been involved with the organization since elementary school, first as a participant and now as a coach.
“I remember that everything we did was fun. And like, that's the one thing that I really wanted to imply with our girls,” Gilhool said. “With Girls on the Run, you can actually be in the heart of the organization and actually hands-on making a difference in someone's future."
The girls weren’t the only ones impacted by the program, as Gilhool said she learned a little bit herself. She said she tried to be an "authority figure," but realized it was better to "loosen up" and participate with the girls to teach them.
“They've taught me a lot of just, like, being able to laugh at myself," Gilhool said.
Erica Woods, a fourth-year French and political science student, said the program has taught her important life lessons. She said "positive self-talk, healthy habits, being a good friend and how to deal with conflict" were topics she felt applied to her own life.
“I like that it sets them up for success, because I see it happening in my own life, too," Woods said.
Woods said one of her favorite parts about coaching the girls is seeing how they come out of their shells by the end of the season.
“You get a lot of girls who are very shy and timid at the beginning of the season, and as they go on, they learn how to be confident, how to stand up for themselves," Woods said.
Third-grader Harper said her favorite part of the program was running. She said the biggest lesson she learned was “to cooperate.”
Third-graders Isabelle and Kennedy said their favorite parts and the biggest lesson they had learned was “making friends.”
Third-grader Madilyn said her favorite part was running, but the biggest lesson that stuck with her was “star power."
“If your friend is feeling bad, then you can brighten them up or help them," Madilyn said.
The girls tackled each other in hugs and ran circles around their coaches, ready for their big racing debut.
There was one girl standing off to the side, clutching the leg of her dad's jeans. When fifth-grader Chloe was asked about her favorite part, she said, “I liked how it taught me to be more confident in myself."