SOMO Village vibrant with festivities at 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning as 350 third to eighth girls from schools throughout Sonoma County prepare for a 5K celebratory run. Hahn fifth grader Camelia Keene, excited to be participating in her third “Girls on the Run,” summarized the purpose succinctly: “We have ten weeks of learning how to have positive self-talk and how to appreciate ourselves as girls.”
Camelia went on to explain the program. “We learn how to deal with problems as we meet twice a week after school for ten weeks to have lessons, to run, to play games and to participate in other activities.” The program culminates with the 5K run, and many runners, like Camelia, share this final activity with relatives. She will be running with her Uncle Nay Nay, Anthony Marraffino today. Camelia’s goals, was not to win, but to finish the race where every girl is a winner.
By 7:15 a.m. the SOMO plaza had become a lively village of booths filled with treats, tee shirts, sleepy vendors and the enthusiastic participants of school teams of girls and their supporters, many family members. Volunteers trickled in to get their assignments as organizers scurried across the plaza to make sure everything was in place.
Michi Termo, the Sonoma County organizer, Operations and Communications Girls on the Run, kindly stopped long enough to enlighten this cub reporter about the event and the activities that led up to it. “This is the 22nd 5K run as we have done them biannually for the past eleven years, one in the fall and one in the spring.” Termo explained that groups of girls between 3rd and 8th grade participate in ten weeks of after school programs. During the ten weeks, these girls meet with their teams, organized by schools, twice a week to participate in activities, games, runs, community projects, and discussions. These discussions involve goal setting, creating empathy, understanding and esteem building for girls.
The ten-week program culminates in the 5K run. And the run is meant to be fun as the girls color their hair, paint their faces, wear bling and celebrate themselves and their teammates as everyone plans to finish the run. The major question asked on many signs lining the plaza: “What would you tell your fourth grade self today?” Termo’s sign shows much of who she is: “Don’t get hung up on the opinions of everyone else; it’s okay to march to your own drum. Being different is your strength. You can do anything you set your mind to!”
The run involves a buddy system. Each girl runs with a family member or friend. All along the route that runs from SOMO Village north to the west side of Credo and then the north side and then south and west to the finish line volunteers monitor the race. Sonoma State University’s Gamma Phi Beta sorority participates not only on race day but also during the ten-week program. SSU senior Nicole Alonzo, for example, helped coach the Evergreen Elementary School.
Evergreen fielded 26 runners, grades 3 through 5. Two of its first time runners, Jenna Pease and Milla Pudesa, expressed their emotions about the event. Jenna had clear goals as she laid them out: “I am really excited. I want to win first place but will be fine if I don’t and will still be proud of me.” Milla, nervous, hoped to run the whole distance. Jenna reassured her by saying, “Try your best and it will be fun.” They both affirmed that they practice the 5K at school or run laps for 35 minutes. Jenna’s mother, Annalisa Pease, coaches the team.
Hahn Elementary School also represented our community. Coach Lauren Cimino and husband Tony stood proudly by two daughters who quietly awaited the big event. Olivia Cimimo, fifth grader, had run this event twice but third grader Lacey was running for the first time.
Between 8 and 9 everyone found many things to do. Refreshments provided by many groups such as Bellwether Farms, Sift Bakery and Healdsburg Running Company, among others, kept the runners in bananas, citrus drinks, energy bars, and chocolate milk. Tiffany Belize, an elementary physical education teacher from Alexander Valley doubled running the Healdsburg Running snack bar and coaching the Healdsburg team. Bubble machines added to the festive atmosphere, as did face painting stations, hair-coloring areas, fake tattoo booths and Fundemonium of Rohnert Park that offered challenging games for the onlookers.
And then Miss Central California, a young lady from Rohnert Park, Dana Harrison, took the stage and began to MC the morning’s events. She introduced Miss Sonoma County, Emma Chen, a student from Maria Carrillo High School. (They will compete for Miss California and Miss California Outstanding Teen.) Miss Central California handed the microphone to Synergy Health Club expert, Char Hubbard, who led the prospective runners in warm ups. Jumping Jills, clapping, knee tapping, running in place, squatting, step it and twist.
Dana Harrison sang the national anthem and then the runners poured through the start/finish line. The sign overhead proclaimed, “The Finish Line is just the Beginning” surrounded on each side by the “Girls on the Run” logo. Hundreds runners passed by all moving at various paces. All finished, all were winners. Each girl participant took home a medal.