Driving up to The Rim Club on summer solstice last Tuesday, I had no idea what awaited me at Luna Fest, a dinner and a movie event to support a girls program spearheaded by Holly Crump. With two daughters and a soft spot for a good cause, I plunged into the experience with no clear idea as to what awaited.
Crump, a slender woman with a bobbed haircut short enough to show off her dangling artistic earrings, greeted me with a warm smile. Crump is director of the Arizona Rural Women’s Health Network, which receives support from the Arizona Health Education Center. AHEC is based at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center and strives to link Arizona’s health professionals with people in rural areas, which typically have much less access to health care than people living in the big, urban counties.
Crump and her daughter, Amity, hope to improve health outcomes for rural Arizona women and girls, especially in Gila County. Holly hosted the Luna Film Festival to support Girls on the Run, a 12-week program for girls in grades 3 through 8.
Crump sat me next to Stephanie Ludwig, the executive director for Girls on the Run in northern Arizona. Stephanie, the picture of health with a slim figure, clear complexion, blue eyes and blond hair, said the program started in North Carolina in 1996 from the vision of Molly Barker. During a sunset run, Barker envisioned a program to educate and prepare girls for a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living.
Barker knew that in today’s society, many girls lack self-worth and self-respect. These feelings can lead to at-risk behaviors such as substance/alcohol abuse, eating disorders, early onset of sexual activity, a sedentary lifestyle, depression, suicide attempts and confrontations with the juvenile justice system.
Studies suggest that running and other forms of regular exercise not only reduce depression, but increase self-esteem in women.
For instance, a study of 35 women college students found that just 16 weeks of either running or weight training significantly boosted scores on personality tests measuring self-esteem. The study of 35 women published in the International Journal of Sports Psychology found that the self-esteem scores of a control group that didn’t exercise declined in the same period.
Other studies have shown that running stimulates the release of chemicals in the brain like beta-endorphins, serotonin and norepinephrines, which regulate mood and all can act as natural anti-depressants.
Girls on the Run administers a 12-week program to prepare girls for a 5K run (about 3 miles) or walk. The purpose isn’t to win the race, it’s simply to finish.
In completing the course, the girls improve their physical, emotional, mental and social well-being. As a result, they can hopefully make choices in their best interest.
As Barker talked, I began to see what had drawn me to this event. I come from a long line of women who lacked self esteem, defined who they were through others, lived with alcoholics, put up with abuse and failed to reach their potential because they couldn’t break out of long-established patterns.
I am the first woman in my family to divorce myself from an abusive relationship and turn my back on self-destructive behaviors. I did that in large measure to offer my daughters a chance to reach their full potential.
In the process, I have finally started to discover my potential.
What could I have accomplished if I had participated in a program like Girls on the Run?