Close to 100 elementary- and middle-schoolers packed the Dimond Park Field House Saturday morning.
Decked out in face paint, colorful T-shirts and running shoes, the young athletes jogged 27 laps around the facility’s second-story track, celebrating the completion of Boys Run I toowú klatseen and Girls on the Run, two after-school running programs supported by Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies (AWARE), Juneau’s shelter for survivors of gender-based violence.
AWARE adopted GOTR over a decade ago, GOTR statewide coordinator Natalie Watson said at the event, and more recently came up with Boys Run I toowú klatseen.
“We brought (GOTR) to Alaska 11 years ago and it’s part of our violence prevention strategy,” Watson said. “So Alaska’s kind of unique in using it that way, but it’s meant to strengthen all these protective factors for kids and reduce risk factors. That’s why AWARE is doing it.”
While GOTR and Boys Run I toowú klatseen both use running to empower youth, they have different curriculum’s, Watson said. GOTR is also much bigger than Boys Run I toowú klatseen, which was created by AWARE in 2014 and only practiced in Alaska.
“Girls need a lot more empowerment and we also do a lot more focus on friendships, it’s so important to girls,” Watson said, explaining the differences in the two programs. “With boys, we focus on the Southeast traditional tribal values, we’re really integrating that into the program. So each lesson has a different focus that uses one of those values. A lot of it is respect, respecting yourself and others, and different styles of communication.”
GOTR has been about positivity for Ellie Jo Wall of Sayéik: Gastineau Community School. It was the fifth-grader’s third GOTR season and third time completing the end-of-season 5K. She said finishing the run Saturday felt like “having a million victories.”
Wall and her 11 teammates were joined and enthusiastically cheered on by one of their coaches, Yvonne Yang. Yang, who works for U.S. Coast Guard, surprised her team by showing up the event.
“I’m so proud of them,” Yang said. “I wasn’t even supposed to be here today because I was at a work conference in Anchorage and my boss let me come home early to be here. It was so awesome to surprise all the girls today because they were all really upset that I wasn’t going to be here.”
Ben Horten was also full of cheer throughout the event. During the season, the Boys Run coach at Glacier Valley Elementary School led conversations surrounding topics like responding to peer pressure. He said he tried not to assume kids were disinterested if they showed signs of being uncomfortable.
“Some of the lessons are hard but I think that’s because there’s stuff that we’re not used to talking about so they make us uncomfortable,” Horten said.
He also taught his team not to put down others, or compare themselves to their peers.
“A lot of what I see at the elementary school and just with kids, in general, is a lot of what I saw when I was growing up, like little comments to cut somebody down,” Horten said.
“If we can get some messages across and send some messages that are different than what boys are hearing from popular culture and mass media … it’s worth it,” he added.