Photo Gallery | T17th annual Girls On The Run Vermont 5k race/walk

BRATTLEBORO — A crowd of about 1,200 participated in the 17th annual Girls On The Run event that began at Brattleboro Union High School on Saturday morning.

Since GOTR Vermont's inception, Executive Director and founder Nancy Heydinger has strived to empower young woman through fitness, team support and community service. Throughout her interview with the Reformer Saturday morning, Heydinger paused to cheer on runners and walkers as they took on the 5K course. The program began with 15 female participants from Vernon in 1999 and has since grown into a non-profit organization, GOTRVT, with 40,000 throughout the state today.


"The greatest joy I get from this is seeing the girls become friends," said Heydinger. "They come from all different walks of life and they might not be friends during school, but then they come together. They all are a great, solid team that cheers and supports each other, it's just so powerful to watch."

Females and males of all ages completed the course with their GOTR teams, parents, siblings or independently. Some participants painted their faces with silly mustaches, designs or with "GOTR" written across their forehead or cheeks. Groups of runners wore tutus, while others wore capes – not to display their love for a comic book super hero, but rather for a confidence boost.

"It makes them feel that they are empowered, because our program is about creating great self-esteem and confidence and the cape just gives them that empowerment that they are strong, happy and healthy, and we hope they grow into that as adults," said Sally Malay, the events director of GOTR.

The first runner to cross the finish line was Erin Crawford, 24. Crawford teaches fourth grade at the Winchester School in Keene, N.H., and coached GOTR for two years. This was not her first long-distance race among a big crowd, to say the least. She grew up in Townshend and went on to run for the cross country and track team at Keene State College. While she felt accomplished to place first on Saturday morning, she remained humble, noting she wished a younger girl had won that was in front of Crawford until the last stretch of the race.

"It feels kind of good to have these lessons with the girls and have them understand what it means to be a girl and a strong girl," said Crawford.

At the event Saturday morning, the Board of Directors for GOTRVT said farewell or "see you later" to GOTRVT Program Director Robyn Bashaw who just served her last year for GOTR.

GOTR consists of a 10- to 12-week program that prepares the young ladies to complete a celebratory 5K run/walk. The girls meet twice a week for an after-school program that consists of exercise but also healthy discussions about accepting oneself and each other. GOTRVT is also an Independent Council of Girls on the Run International, which has a network of over 225 councils across the United States and Canada.

"Studies show that, starting at around age 8, girls begin to lose their innate confidence and carefree nature," states the GOTRVT website. "Due to the media and social pressures, they often begin to judge themselves and each other harshly."

Participants head to the start line.
Participants head to the start line.

Growing up, Heydinger said she was not encouraged to appreciate herself or find her value, gifts and strengths.

"There were not a lot of expectations of me, I was the first girl in the family and my job was to be sweet, cute, pretty and quiet, so that's what I did and who I was," said Heydinger. "But it didn't help me to figure out who I was."

Heydinger not only changed the outlook of herself, but also gave the opportunity for thousands of other young girls across the state to see their worth. She had two young daughters, Katy and Caroline, when she attended a conference with the Women's Sports Foundation in Washington D.C. in the late 1990s, and told the leaders she wanted to bring a program back to Vermont that incorporated girls, running and self esteem. Then in 1999, she brought back the GOTR curriculum to the Green Mountain State.

Heydinger said the most support she has received throughout the entire process has come from her husband, Tom.

"He's done more than anyone will ever know. He is the one who started the 5Ks all over the state and he did them for 12 years," said Heydinger.

As of earlier this month, with the addition of Wyoming, Girls On The Run now impacts communities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia through its network of over 200 councils. According to Heydinger, last year the program reached its one million girl mark, serving a million participants since its beginning in 1996.

"I feel so fortunate that I fell into this and was able to become who I am through Girls On The Run and speak up and feel stronger and more confident in myself," said Heydinger.

Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275