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This weekend, I did something I've never done before: I waved pompoms and cheered my heart out. As a volunteer at the annual Girls on the Run Lollipop Run in San Francisco's Golden Gate park, I was assigned to be part of the "cheer team" and posted near the finish line of the 1 mile and 5k races. Girls on the Run, a national nonprofit, teaches girls age 8 to 13 self-esteem and leadership skills through weekly running/fitness sessions at local schools. The 12-week program culminates in a 5k, the first race most of the girls have ever participated in. Paired with an adult running buddy for the race, the girls are encouraged to complete the race however they like, walking, skipping or running. Many sprinted by me with big grins on their faces. Others needed more encouragement, but took off once I told them it was "all downhill from here" and they saw the finish line marked by an arch of pink and purple balloons. 

I was hoarse by the morning's end, but also incredibly inspired and excited. The race was a wonderful way for girls to experience all the positives running brings—achieving a goal, having people cheer for you like you're a superstar, spending time with your best friends and boosting your moral. It also made me hopeful that by discovering these benefits so young, these girls could make healthier choices in their teenage years and stay active throughout their lives.  

To learn more about Girls on the Run or to volunteer for the spring session with your local group, visit girlsontherun.org.

—Kristin Harrison