PORTLAND, Ore. — When she laces up her shoes for a jog, Mavia Haight doesn’t just see running as exercise.
“I love running so much for its ability to help me maintain my emotional equilibrium,” she said.
Haight is the executive director of Girls on the Run Portland Metro, a nonprofit using running as a tool, and not as the main goal for 3rd through 8th grade girls.
“Everything that we do is all about growth mindset," Haight said. "Nothing that we do is timed, girls never compare how many laps they do to each other, they write a goal for themselves. Then they go for a run and then they come back to their journal, and they see did I accomplish that goal."
Nine-year-old Meera Huja is one of 1,300 girls who participated in 2020. She was thrilled to see friends in person again at practice, but bummed with how last year’s season ended too soon. Her mom Christin is a volunteer coach.
“I think that right now what has been really wonderful is giving my daughter and other kiddos have chance to socialize during the pandemic,” Christin said. “Just seeing the kids so happy to be around each other.”
“I wish, as a child, I'd have had a program like this. We're running to just to be about the joy of movement and not about some of those superficial things,” Haight said. “I look at these practices and it's amazing to see that for these girls, running is just about fun, it's about supporting each other. That's really what it should be.”
Of course, the girls run, but they also have team building exercises and do community outreach. Meera loves being involved.
“I really enjoy, encouraging other people,” she said. “When I finished the 5K, there was a couple kids that hadn't finished it yet. Yeah. And I really enjoyed cheering them on.”
Haight wants to get this spring off on the right foot, so Girls on the Run is offering a camp during Oregon’s spring break. There’s also a separate 8-week program to do virtually or in-person. Registration Is done with a lottery and a sliding fee scale to keep it affordable for families.
“We're super committed to try and to get every interesting girl into the program,” Haight said.
“I would highly recommend people signing up to volunteer as coach,” said Christin. “You don't have to be a runner, you don’t have to be athletic. There are so many ways that you can plug yourself in to the practices and be a mentor for these girls and get something out for yourself as well.”
The program is building confidence and setting goals, while teaching girls to run life’s race with perseverance and poise.
“We just feel like we have what it takes us an organization to be there for girls, be there for families,” said Haight.