The Edina Girls Athletic Association is an organization formulated just for girls. It intends to help them build friendships, confidence and learn how to live healthy lives. They currently offer three programs for girls to join: flag football, volleyball and the newly created run team.
Tanya Dowda created the run team and is also currently the director of the team. She was on the board of the Edina Girls Athletic Association (EGAA) and she really wanted to add something new into the mix and offer another team sport that could bring girls in the organization together. She wanted to create more variety to get more girls involved and she figured a run club would be a great new addition to help achieve that mission. Dowda is an avid runner who understands how running positively impacted her own life and hopes it will reach other girls in the same way.
“Our hope is to inspire them to lace up their shoes, get fresh air, make new friends and learn how to map out one mile or three miles in their own neighborhood,” Dowda says.
Dowda was also motivated by wanting to get younger girls involved with running before middle school and high school when track and cross-country is offered in nearly all schools. This gives younger girls a chance to practice and discover their love for the sport earlier than was possible before.
The program began during the summer of 2017 when they offered it for free and had a total of 12 participants. Since there was such a large turnout and interest by the girls and their families, the board voted it on to the organization and it was included officially in the offerings for 2018 when participation jumped to 48.
“I am very passionate about running and have always wanted to provide an opportunity for youth to learn about running at a younger age, so I proposed the idea to the board,” Dowda says.
In 2019, the running team is open to all girls in grades four–eight and there are also mentors who are in grades nine–12. The mentors are experienced runners who are participating in track or cross-country and offer advice, encourage the girls and even run with them to help them get stronger and faster. The entire experience is not about competition but instead about making friends, getting exercise and having fun.
“The mentors would share their passion for running with the younger runners and use the time during the runs to connect and create new bonds and friendships,” Dowda says.
The group runs in Wooddale Park and they usually have around three–six board members for adult supervision as well as five–10 mentors participating with the younger runners. They run and walk together. They also participate in activities such as writing inspirational words on the sidewalk and stretching together to end the session. Everyone can go at the speed that is most comfortable for them. The girls also learn to make running more fun by taking what Dowda calls fun breaks where the girls look to find a tree when they are resting and tell themselves they will run to that spot before they take another break. Running does not have to be a pain; in fact it can be enjoyable as long as you incorporate fun activities and maintain a positive mindset.
“It is about fun, friendship, community and learning to love a sport that is foundational for all other sports. Running is free (except for a pair of shoes) and is a lifelong sport,” Dowda says.
In the first year that they were active, the run team also hosted their first event, a 5K run for everyone. The race was at Lake Calhoun in August 2018. They had a total of 94 runners run around the lake in what they called “Celebrate Every Step.” They hope that this upcoming summer season will bring an increase of members to the team as well as higher turnouts to the 5K.
“The goal of the 5K was to celebrate new skills and friendships, while being encouraged and supported by the community. Our goal for 2019 is to expand the program, while creating more awareness of both the summer Run Team EGAA program and the ‘Celebrate Every Step’ 5K, in an effort to get the entire community out to celebrate every step and each other,” Dowda says.
Looking into the future of the program, Dowda envisions an expanded run team and a larger community involvement. They want to continue to involve families and encourage the mentors to gain leadership experience and provide examples for the young girls about how to make friends, behave properly and treat others while participating and sharing a love for an activity.
Dowda has thoroughly enjoyed that since creating the team she has spoken to parents whose children wanted to join track and cross-country once they reached high school, when before they never even knew they wanted to, or even enjoyed running.
“We recognize the benefit and demand of a run team in our community for fourth–eighth graders and hope to continue to grow and expand the program going forward,” Dowda says.
Reasons to Run:
Running can do wonders for your body both physically and mentally. Not only does running drastically improve your cardiovascular health but also builds muscle and improves strength. For young people, even running 30 minutes a day can help them sleep better and increase focus, which can help during long school days. Running naturally increases levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain that boosts your mood and makes it easier to work through stressful situations as well as combat feelings of anxiety and depression. As obvious as it may seem, running is also a great way to stay in shape. Introducing people to different forms of exercise at a young age makes them more likely to continue to take care of their bodies in the future.