Molly BARKER, Girls on the Run

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Molly Barker, Girls on the RunFounder, Girls on the Run

During a sunset run in 1993, Molly Barker experienced an epiphany to get her life together. The future founder of Girls on the Run had hit rock bottom; however, that evening’s run gave Molly insight into her potential and the concept for Girls on the Run took shape. Three years later, Molly launched the company to educate and prepare girls for a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living. Her innovative program combines training for a 5K event with self-esteem enhancing lessons that increase social, physical and mental health in eight to twelve year-old girls. A four-time Hawaii Ironman triathlete, Molly’s efforts have positively affected the lives of tens of thousands of girls in 157 cities in 43 states, as well as two Canadian locations, and have received recognition in major magazines and on network news programs.

Molly started running with her mom when she was 15. Her 50 year-old mom drew strength from running as part of her recovery from alcoholism. Molly noticed that her mother returned from those runs awake and alive. Molly had a similar experience when she ran, discovering that she simply “loved the process of running.”

But Molly got distracted when she encountered “the girl box.” She describes this as a space where “only girls who were a certain size with a certain beauty were popular; where girls who wanted to fit in had to mold their bodies and their personalities to fit the requirements of the box.” Ironically, the same year Molly found strength in running, she also she took her first drink, became a flirty party girl, began caring too much about her looks and wearing clothes she shouldn’t. As time went on, Molly found it easier to fit into the girl box when she drank.

As she got older, Molly continued running, and drinking. On the surface, Molly had it all together. She went to college, earning a degree in chemistry and a masters in social work. Molly taught in high school, coached track and worked as a college counselor. She also became a competitive athlete, completing the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon four times. Under the surface, Molly was still stuck in the girl box and had become an alcoholic.

On July 6, 1993, at age 32, her world collapsed.

The next day, under the threat of a thunderstorm, Molly went for a run and experienced an awakening like no other. She felt present and in control. The power she channeled when running took over. Molly realized she hadn’t reached her true human potential. At that moment, she shed the external influences that had trapped her in the girl box and the concept for Girls on the Run took root.

Over the next three years, Molly sought treatment for her alcoholism, found work that used her strengths and developed the Girls on the Run program. In 1996, Molly started Girls on the Run in Charlotte, NC. Thirteen brave pre-teen girls participated in the 12-week, 24-lesson experiential learning program that combined training for a 3.1 mile running event with self-esteem enhancing workouts. Molly designed the program to encourage positive emotional, social, mental, spiritual and physical development in tweens.

The next season, 26 girls took part, then 75. The number of girls who participated kept increasing. Molly financed Girls on the Run with the girls’ registration fees and, in her own words, “made it by the skin of my teeth.”

Soon, the demand for other Girls on the Run communities, called councils, began to grow. Today, there are 157 councils in 43 states, two in Canada, with interest requests from 39 countries, including Australia, Kazakhstan and Iran.

Not being familiar with business structures in the early days, Molly began Girls on the Run as a for-profit company. However, when the number of girls who couldn’t pay the registration fee increased, Molly went to a non-profit structure. In 2000, Girls on the Run International, a 501c-3 organization, was born, and “the world just opened up” for the company.

Designed to provide pre-adolescent girls with tools to embrace their girlhood gifts, the Girls on the Run program was originally for third to fifth graders; however, when the girls wanted something that took them through middle school, Girls on Track was added for sixth through eighth graders. Today, tens of thousands of girls have experienced the life-changing Girls on the Run program.

Molly’s Girls on the Run efforts have been recognized in The Washington Post, Runner’s World, People Magazine, Woman’s Day, Girls Life, Time Magazine, O, The Oprah Magazine and on MSNBC, ABC News, CNN, NBC News and ESPN.

With the success of the Girls on the Run program combined with her books, Girls on Track, A Parent’s Guide to Inspiring our Daughters to Achieve a Lifetime of Self-Esteem and Respect, and Girls Lit From Within, Molly, entrepreneur, recovering alcoholic, and mother to two children, has become an inspiration and positive role model for people of all ages.

What we learned from Molly: “I enjoy being in a place of doubt because it keeps me curious. I always wonder, ‘Is there a better way of doing things?’ and I push the limits. It’s OK not to know everything.”

Focus on Your Strengths

“The most surprising thing I’ve realized is that there are those who really love Excel spreadsheets. These are the bane of my existence, but there are people I work with who just love creating them. That is their strength and it makes them happy. I believe that if you put people in roles where they can use their gifts and talents, they will honestly thrive. Why focus on developing in an area where you may only ever be average?”

The Ultimate Vision

“I want Girls on the Run to not be needed and become obsolete. I want the informal and formal expectations that define a girl’s potential, also known as the girl box, to be gone.”

This Featured Lady was profiled by Megan L. Reese, WORDrobe™ Stylist for Her Write Image in West Grove, PA.

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