In Idaho’s Treasure Valley, there are plenty of great places to go for a run. Trails run up into the foothills surrounding the city of Boise, offering beautiful views.
It’s the job of Melissa Bixby, a PreventObesity.net Leader, to help get some of the area’s younger residents hitting those trails. She runs Treasure Valley’s chapter of the popular Girls on the Run fitness program.
The Treasure Valley encompasses Boise and its surrounding region, the most populated area of southwest Idaho. Its Girls on the Run program, which now operates in 25 locations in two counties in the valley, was launched in 2001 after local organizers heard about the program via a national conference for women’s sports.
Bixby started out as a volunteer in the early 2000s, holding various coaching and organizing roles, and became program director in 2009. “I already had knowledge of the inside track with the program,” she said. “It gave me the understanding of what volunteers need and how the program works.”
In the most recent session, spring 2014, the program had 374 girls, which Bixby said is more than double the number participating when she began working as program director.
One factor helping the recruitment, she noted, is that Boise is “a very active city,” with runs and other athletic events crowding the calendar from April to October.
“A lot of people want their kids to be more active, and we provide a noncompetitive program for that. For that girl who’s intimidated by track or an organized sport, we provide a route and then hopefully she can get into track or organized 5Ks.”
“Our hope is we introduce the girls to running and it becomes a lifetime sport. Not necessarily competitive, just getting out there and moving.”
The program, which runs spring and fall sessions, offers 10 weeks of training leading up to a 5K race.
“We try to be outside as much as possible, but we have Idaho weather to deal with,” Bixby said. September, when the fall session begins, can still bring very hot days and wildfires are an occasional risk. Toward the end of the fall training, snow can make an appearance.
Girls are also encouraged to find a running buddy and Bixby said in many cases they’ll ask one of their parents to fill that role.
“Parents say, ‘I’m having to train to run with my daughter,’ or ‘This was the excuse I needed.’” she said. “That’s the most inspirational point for me at the 5K, seeing these girls running with their moms, dads, and siblings and seeing how it becomes a family affair.”
She recalled seeing how the program was life-changing for one family of a Girls on the Run participant: “When I was a coach I had a little girl, on the heavier side but very active. She wasn’t the fastest but she was very consistent. Her mom and dad were on the overweight side, but with her involvement in Girls on the Run, they joined the gym and got active as a family. It was neat to see their attitudes change … a true testament and a huge compliment to the program.”
In the upcoming fall session, Bixby estimated that 400 to 425 girls will be enrolled in the program. “We only have one staff member and that’s me, so we’re getting to the max level. Which is a good problem to have!”
Donna Brutkowski authored this report.