Girls on the Run uses exercise to teach goal setting

Emily Bloyd vividly remembers the lessons she learned as an 8-year-old in the after-school program Girls on the Run. Now a senior in high school, she teaches self-esteem to 8 to 10-year-olds as a volunteer coach in the same program.

Admittedly, it wasn't an easy journey for her.

"Growing up through my high school years, I went away from the beliefs of Girls on the Run. Self-confidence? I didn't really have that," said Bloyd, now 17.

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During Bloyd's freshman year, she developed an eating disorder and struggled for two years. After treatment, she was able to gain her health and confidence back.

"To think about these third and fifth grade girls, I don't want them to have to go through what I went through," she said.

Though she doesn't talk about her personal struggles, she uses her life experiences to help guide her lessons.

"(When) I went in, I knew I was supposed to be teaching these girls something and I got so much back instead. I only hope they got as much out of it as I did," she said.

Girls on the Run program at Spring Hill Elementary leans in for a encouragement huddle

Girls on the Run has after-school programs at 19 elementary schools in Knox, Loudon, Blount, Anderson and Sevier counties. Twice a week, volunteer coaches teach lessons about goal setting through exercise based on a provided curriculum. The girls are encouraged to cheer each other on.

"The first part is learning about having a healthy relationship with yourself. I don't think there's anyone out there that has a perfectly functioning relationship with themselves," said Kelly Eldridge, executive director of Girls on the Run of Greater Knoxville.

Eldridge started as a coach in 2009 and fell in love with the program.

"What I find kind of remarkable is every season I have at least one or two parents who say, 'Is there a moms on the run? Is there a way I can learn some of these lessons too?' Anyone can benefit from self-acceptance," she said.

Volunteer Emily Bloyd runs alongside a Girls on the Run participant

Participants prepare all season for a non-competitive 5K race where their families and the community cheer them on. You can sign up here.

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Girls on the Run is looking for volunteer coaches to give an hour and a half twice a week for 10 weeks in the spring or fall. You do not have to be a runner to coach.