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April 30. 2013 7:55PM

New club has Londonderry girls running with confidence


Members of the Girls on the Run club at North School take part in a relay race exercise around the school on Monday afternoon. The girls raced to make construction paper chains as part of lesson on the importance of teamwork. (APRIL GUILMET PHOTO)
LONDONDERRY -- WHEN SHE'S RUNNING around a track is when North Elementary School student Alexis Meola says she feels "the most free."

Alexis and her 14 new friends, all fourth- and fifth-graders at the Londonderry elementary school, have trouble containing their enthusiasm when talking about their newest passion - running.

As part of the school's new Girls on the Run club, the girls practice two afternoons each week.

Girls on the Run is a statewide program that culminates in a spring 5K race at the N.H. Technical Institute in Concord next month. More than 700 girls from around the state are expected to participate.

Assistant Principal Jill Connors learned about the program through her niece, who participated at her school in Manchester. Connors, who has a passion for running herself, said she knew right away she wanted to form a club at her school.

After Connors contacted Betsy Cissel, the state program coordinator, the club began meeting earlier this spring.

Cissel said the program's mission is not only to encourage healthy lifestyles but also "to inspire girls to be joyful and confident."

While some of the club members are already active in local sports, others are new to exercise in general.

This seems to be the case in most of the Granite State school districts that have adopted the program.

"Usually we see a pretty good mix of first-timers and experienced athletes," Cissel said.

Locally, Londonderry's Matthew Thornton School has a GOTR team, as do several schools in Windham.

Cissel said the most satisfying part of her job is seeing the impact the program has had on the young girls it serves.

"Sometimes they'll come up to me a year later, they'll tell me how they were able to handle a bullying situation or a problem with a sibling," Cissel said. "Their enthusiasm is contagious."

Fourth-grader Myah Teague demonstrated some of that enthusiasm.

"My mom wanted me to spend more time outside, and I'm glad I did," she said.

Classmate Charlotte Sullivan said running has given her "more energy for soccer and lacrosse," while Shannon Walen said the program has helped her with endurance and speed on the field.

Alex Perry said she doesn't typically play sports but decided to join the club "to try something new."

Lilly Farrington said she "still can't believe she's going to be running a 5K," while Christa Kimball said she joined the club to help her make new friends after moving to Londonderry from Nashua.

"Before I started Girls on the Run, I didn't run very fast at all," added classmate Audrey Gagnon. "Now I'm one of the fastest girls on the track."



aguilmet@newstote.com

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