A few weeks ago, I posted this picture on the blog:


It’s of Molly Barker, the founder of Girls on the Run, and the group of girls who were part of the first ever GOTR team.  While out on a run, Molly had the idea for GOTR , and she worked tirelessly to write a curriculum and bring the program to a local Charlotte elementary school.  In 1997, her dream became a reality.  But Molly and the girls had no idea that GOTR would become a huge non-profit that has since served over a quarter of a million girls in the United States and Canada.


When I shared the image, a Healthy Tipping Point reader named Sarah commented: “Hey, I’m in that picture!” (She’s standing up and wearing a yellow shirt.)  Turns out, Sarah is still living in Charlotte, where GOTR first started.  And since participating, she’s continued running and served as GOTR assistant coach.  I asked her to share her story. 


Take it away, Sarah…

GOTR 5k 1997

I did Girls on the Run in third and fourth grade, so I was nine and ten. As a kid, I was a major tomboy; so much so that I went through a stage where I wore boys’ boxers instead of girls’ underwear. I loved playing outside, PE class, and playing on the playground. I was quiet and a little shy. I also loved animals and remember wanting to be a veterinarian. My parents also say that I was stoic and determined.


Both of my parents worked, so they were always looking for organized after-school activities for me. They were both running enthusiasts, and I think they thought Girls on the Run would be a good way to introduce me to the sport. My dad also thought that it might help me with other sports down the road. They first heard about the program when I brought a Girls on the Run flyer home from school. My dad called Molly to get more information, and apparently they had a long talk. He hung up impressed with her and her idea, so they signed me up.


The original Girls on the Run curriculum not only included an end-of-season 5K, but a camping trip.  Most of  my specific memories are from the 5K and camping trips.  In general, however, I remember really looking forward to the days I got to go to Girls on the Run. I had a lot of friends in my group, and we liked running around the big track and playing games in the field. I remember at the beginning of the season hearing Molly talk about everyone doing a 5K at the end, but not really believing her that we would. It sounded long!  I also remember Molly’s energy – she was always smiling and always excited to see us. My group was very rambunctious, and I remember Molly’s patience. She had endless patience! She was good with all of the personality types in my group and gave the same amount of attention to the loudest girl as she did to the quietest girl. (I was a quiet girl and appreciated that about Molly.) We all thought she was very cool, and I kind of viewed her as a more fun version of a teacher.

GOTR camping 1998

I also started to learn in Girls on the Run that I’m not a very competitive person. By third grade, I had tried soccer and basketball and didn’t really love those settings. In Girls on the Run, however, I had the chance to set a goal for myself (the 5K) and work towards reaching it on my own. I didn’t need a lot of external pressure or competition to thrive – just support, which is what we got in GOTR. I really liked the feeling of personal accomplishment at the end of Girls on the Run, and have since learned that those are the situations in which I do best.


Since we were the first and only Girls on the Run in my two years, we didn’t have a dedicated GOTR 5K as they do now in many big cities. The first year we ran in Charlotte’s Reindeer Romp. I remember showing up with my mom for packet pick-up, seeing all of the people, and realizing that the race was actually going to happen – I think I had doubted that the entire season. I vividly remember the race organizers giving out little bells for us to tie on our shoes and thinking that was really cool (kids really do remember the little things).  I ran the race with my mom, and I remember thinking that 5k was the longest distance! The course seemed to keep going and going. I also remember how good it felt to see the finish line and how excited I was that I’d finished. That’s a pretty great feeling no matter your age or the distance.


Several years after my last season of Girls on the Run, Molly reached out and invited me to run in one of the first GOTR-specific 5Ks. I ran with my dad and was shocked at how much the program had grown and how many people were participating! Then, my friend Caroline (who was also in the original group) and I were assistant coaches our senior year of high school.

GOTR 2006 asst coach

I certainly attribute GOTR to introducing me to running. I think a lot of peoples’ battle with running is mental – they don’t enjoy it and don’t think they can do it. Doing Girls on the Run showed me early on that running can be fun, and it gave me the opportunity to discover what I was capable of. I learned in GOTR that I could run if I put my mind to it, and it could be something I enjoyed.  In high school, college, and since college, running has really been a tool for me. It’s a time to clear my head, spend quality time with myself, bond with friends, gain confidence, push myself beyond what I thought was possible, and accomplish some life goals. I think that showing young girls that running can be fun is a great mission, and GOTR can really set girls up for a healthier future.


Molly has been really great about keeping in touch with several of us from the original group. I have run into her a lot over the years, have heard her speak several times, and have gone to a couple of GOTR events with her to represent the original group. Since I live in Charlotte now, often run into her around town. She is still a role model and an inspiration to many of us.  One of my more recent memories of Molly happened last year when I was training for a marathon – I was on one of my final long runs and was really struggling. It was hot, I was a long way from home, and I really wanted to walk. I was running through a park and crossed paths with Molly, who was walking with her daughter. I thought to myself, “Oh perfect, someone I know and can stop and talk to! This is a perfect excuse to stop and rest.” As Molly saw me, she said, “Hey Sarah! I heard you’re training!” So I stopped to talk and she said, “Oh no, don’t stop, keep going! You’ve got it! Keep going!” and really pushed me on to finish the run. Seeing her at that point was great motivation, and it put my mind in a better place. She was still a little bit my coach, fourteen years after GOTR.

Boston 2011

While writing this, I talked to my mom about my Girls on the Run experience, and she reminded me of something I said back in third grade. Apparently I came home from Girls on the Run one afternoon and very confidently declared to her that this program was going to be as big as Girl Scouts one day. I must have known it was something special, even as a third grader. 


It has been incredible watching GOTR grow from our first little group into what it is today. I am really proud of and impressed by Molly, and I’m not surprised by how many people volunteer to support her mission. Every time I hear someone mention Girls on the Run, I always want to brag that I was in the first group. It is a very cool fun fact and claim to fame!



  • Anne Kendall June 5, 2012, 12:09 pm

    What a wonderfu story! Thanks for sharing, Caitlin and Sarah! I’ve been thinking about getting involved with a local cause like GOTR, so thanks for the inspiration!

  • Jess June 5, 2012, 12:25 pm

    Very cool post. I coached GOTR this past season, and wondered many times what would “stick.” Nice to read this perspective!!

  • Devon June 5, 2012, 12:29 pm

    What a wonderful story! I teared up when I reached the photo of Sarah finishing the Boston Marathon. I hope GOTR will be available for my (future, unborn) daughter someday. If not, maybe I’ll start a chapter!

  • Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat June 5, 2012, 12:32 pm

    Aw this post makes me so happy! Great story Sarah. There is a GOTR chapter in Toronto but unfortunately that’s a little far for me to travel in order to help out. However, I still would love to take part in it some day, and help create memories for young girls like the ones you’ve shared here. 🙂

  • Katie @ Peace Love & Oats June 5, 2012, 12:40 pm

    This is a great story, and makes me very excited! I haven’t been able to volunteer with GOTR yet, but I am running as a Solemate for the Chicago Marathon this October!

  • Jessica Otto June 5, 2012, 12:40 pm

    Thank you for sharing such a powerful story! It is wonderful to hear your love for an organization I love so much as well!

  • Caroline @ After Dinner Dance June 5, 2012, 12:48 pm

    Loved this! I really hope they accept me to help out in the fall! Do you know if every chapter has assistant coaches? I think I might rather start as an assistant since I’ve never been involved before.

    • CaitlinHTP June 5, 2012, 12:49 pm

      Yup! the head coaches need to be there two days a week but assistant coaches can come once or twice a week.

  • Sara June 5, 2012, 12:53 pm

    Great story! I saw on Facebook a couple of months ago that my little cousin was doing GOTR! I was very excited!

  • Tanya Burns June 5, 2012, 12:54 pm

    Wow! Sarah, you could have been describing my daughter, right down to the day she told me that Molly Barker was like Juliet Gordon Lowe and one day GOTR will be just as big as Girl Scouts! My daughter is not competitive either, but has found a love through GOTR that I hope lasts as long for her as it has for you. She just finished her 6th and final GOTR in elementary school. We are hoping to figure out how to bring Girls on the Track to her middle school next year. Thanks for sharing your story 🙂

  • Sana June 5, 2012, 12:56 pm

    🙂 I love GOTR! A lot of the adults I teach are training to be 5k buddies for their grandkids <3 The whole family gets involved!

  • abbi June 5, 2012, 1:10 pm

    Loved reading this, great story about GOTR!

  • Brandy June 5, 2012, 1:25 pm

    Makes me want to get involved – as do many of your GOTR posts. Thanks for sharing!!

  • Brigid June 5, 2012, 1:40 pm

    Beautiful post! It really makes me want to get involved. Thanks for sharing your story, Sarah!

  • Beth June 5, 2012, 2:06 pm

    This is so inspiring! Thank you for sharing!

  • Lexi @ You, Me, & A World to See June 5, 2012, 2:21 pm

    It’s heartwarming to see all of those girls getting excited about doing something together!

  • Heather June 5, 2012, 2:35 pm

    LOVE THIS POST, Thanks for sharing your story, Sarah!

  • Jen June 5, 2012, 2:57 pm

    SO cool! Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Heather June 5, 2012, 3:27 pm

    I coached a Girls on the Run team for the first time this spring. I think I got as much out of it as the girls. I would strongly suggest anyone to volunteer to coach (the curriculum is very easy to follow). Also, you can volunteer race day if you aren’t able to coach. It is an incredible event and they always need a lot of volunteers.

  • Kamaile June 5, 2012, 3:48 pm

    Very cool!

  • Cecily June 5, 2012, 5:31 pm

    Great post! Very inspiring!

  • Molly Barker June 5, 2012, 6:53 pm

    No fair…this has me in tears over here. Literally. I just feel so amazed by all the literally hundreds of thousands of people who continue to give their hearts and souls to this program. Sarah…I loved you then and I love you now. You are ray of light, girl. A ray of light!

    • Sarah June 5, 2012, 7:54 pm

      Same to you, Molly! This was so fun to write and think back on!

      Thanks for having me, Caitlin. You made my words look great!

  • Jen@HealthyFoodandFamily June 5, 2012, 7:18 pm

    That is so cool!!! My daughter will be in 2nd grade next year and I’m looking for something like this for her!

  • B @ crags and veggies June 5, 2012, 7:45 pm

    Awesome job Molly! Women like you are an inspiration and the epitome of a true role model!

  • Kendall @On An Inhale June 5, 2012, 9:19 pm

    What a great story! Thanks for sharing it! I’m hoping to create my own “gotr” type of program with yoga and nutrition. It’s very inspiring!

  • Angie June 5, 2012, 9:24 pm

    My daughter just finished her 2nd GOTR season, and she and I and my mom did the 5k together. I love the GOTR curriculum and my daughter is completely hooked. I already asked our coach about being an assistant when the current assistant’s daughter “graduates” to middle school.

    I did witness something really heartbreaking during our GOTR 5k this spring. A dad was a “running buddy” and was berating his daughter almost the whole race for not running more and was literally pulling her along by the arm to make her run. My little group was doing a consistent run 2 min/walk 2 min schedule and they kept passing us when he dragged her and then we passed them when they walked. She was almost in tears and I wanted to chew him out (or punch him/trip him you name it, I was really upset!). If Molly is reading this comment, what would you have done? It was so contrary to the goals of GOTR and just devastating for the girl involved.

  • lynne @lgsmash June 5, 2012, 11:51 pm

    That is way cool – thanks for sharing, Sarah!

  • Heather June 6, 2012, 12:21 am

    How neat that Sarah found you and saw herself in this picture! I also think it is so cool to hear her reflections on participating as a child. I think it’d be interesting to hear a child’s perspective right after they participate, too…maybe the next season you coach? 🙂

  • Liz June 6, 2012, 12:27 am

    That is such a cool story, Sarah – I was even kinda tearing up! 😉

  • Megan June 6, 2012, 1:11 am

    Thank you both for sharing. I really love this story. I’ve know of and had friends who have been involved with girls on the run for a few years. This has inspired me to get involved. Molly really is an inspiration! It’s a testament to what a small dream can become…

  • Julia H. @ Going Gulia June 6, 2012, 9:57 pm

    Such a great story!!! Every time I read something about GOTR, I get more & more sure that I want to be involved with it. I’m actually applying for an assistant coach position for the fall near my college!

  • Courtney Smith June 14, 2012, 5:58 pm

    Congrats on finishing your marathon, Sarah! I’m training for my first one in November. It was great to hear your story, it will serve as my motivation!

    I also love the camping picture, I remember that night vividly! I believe that was my first night camping outside, and now I am an outdoor instructor as one of my professions. So many wonderful things in my life can be traced back to GOTR.

Previous post:

Next post:

Healthy Tipping Point