Girls on the Run comes to the Oklahoma City area
COMMENTARY — Running helped an Oklahoma City woman overcome weight and self-esteem issues. Now Leslie Littlejohn wants to help little girls in Central Oklahoma to win the same race through Girls on the Run.
Leslie Littlejohn refuses to sugarcoat the truth.
She says she was a fat kid, and she admits it was rough. She struggled with self-esteem issues. She battled eating disorders as a teenager.
“I had to work very hard to become OK with me,” the married mother of three says now.
Littlejohn wants to help Oklahoma girls avoid the difficulty she went through. That's why she started the Oklahoma County chapter of Girls on the Run, a national organization that strives to foster confidence and build a sense of accomplishment in girls through physical activity. That's why she has big dreams for the group, too.
Girls on the Run is almost 20 years old and can be found in more than 200 cities across the United States, but for years, it was nowhere to be seen in Oklahoma.
That changed because of Littlejohn.
A few years ago, she saw Girls on the Run in action in Kalamazoo, Mich. She was born there, and her sister still lives in the city of 75,000, which has a huge Girls on the Run program. It's so ingrained in the community that it's a foregone conclusion that every girl in Kalamazoo will do Girls on the Run at some point in elementary or middle school.
Littlejohn's niece has done it for three years.
“She has loved every minute,” Littlejohn said.
But more than that, the girl has been changed by the experience.
“She blossomed and has gained so much confidence,” Littlejohn said. “I wouldn't have believed it if she weren't my niece.”
The program for third through eighth graders works this way: a group of a dozen or so girls meets once a week for 10 to 12 weeks. During their meetings, an adult coach leads them in discussions about all sorts of issues and problems that they'll face, then leads them through physical activities designed to help them cope.
Peer pressure, for example, is among the issues that they address. After discussing it, the girls do a group run where they're told to listen to their inner voice, running at their own pace instead of trying to keep up with someone else, going too fast and wearing themselves out.
When they've finished the entire program, the girls do a 5K to celebrate what they've accomplished and to confirm what they've learned.
When Littlejohn saw the way her niece grew through Girls on the Run, she knew Oklahoma needed the program. This is a state, after all, with one of the worst childhood obesity rates in the United States, a problem that Littlejohn sees firsthand as a teacher in the Oklahoma City Public Schools.