NINE YEARS AGO, Cabin John resident Eve Mills was looking for a branch of Girls on the Run (GOTR), an after-school self-esteem-building and fitness program for girls in grades 3-8, for her two daughters. When she found that the nonprofit didn’t have a Montgomery County chapter, she helped start one. “I wanted my girls to hear about these life lessons not only from me as a mom, but from other adult role models,” Mills says.
Volunteer coaches—mostly teachers, moms and running enthusiasts—lead small classes twice a week for 10 weeks, weaving in running games and stretches while they talk about topics such as healthy eating, bullying, gossiping and body image. Each season ends with a 5K run (3.1 miles) that starts at Westfield Montgomery mall. This past May, there were 5,000 participants—2,500 girls from 115 public and private schools in the county, plus a grown-up “buddy runner” for each.
“One of my favorite topics is getting rid of self-talk. The girls write on paper something that goes through their mind that’s negative,” says Mills, 49. “They crumple it up, run a lap and then they throw it in a box.”
In 2013, Mills, now director of operations for GOTR of Montgomery County, started a coed running club at Bethesda’s Thomas W. Pyle Middle School, where her younger daughter just finished eighth grade (she also has a son). She’s been so inspired by GOTR that in 2006, at the age of 41, she decided to enter the Marine Corps Marathon. She thought she’d do just one marathon, but found it so exhilarating that she ran another. And another. Then it was on to ultrarunning, mountaineering and rock climbing. She’s run across the Grand Canyon and summited 14,411-foot Mount Rainier.
EVE MILLS ON THE POWER OF RUNNING
Kathleen Seiler Neary, who lives in Kensington, is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Washington Post and Parenting, among other publications.