Girls on the Run Southwest Michigan to host virtual 5K

SOUTHWEST MICHIGAN — Since COVID-19 reached the state of Michigan, state-mandated closures and “Stay Home, Stay Safe” orders have canceled many annual and time-honored events throughout the Michiana region.

This was the case for Girls on the Run Southwest Michigan, which announced earlier this month it was canceling its spring 2020 season and annual 5K event. However, now organizers have decided to bring the 5K back in a virtual form.

From May 14 to 17, Girls on the Run Southwest Michigan will host a virtual 5K event to support its program. Runners of all ages and genders are welcome to join, and the $10 participation fee includes a race bib and completion certificate. The deadline to register is May 10.

“Right now, everyone wants to get out and move, so this is a way to do that and support a local cause,” said Tess Carragher, executive director of Girls on the Run Southwest Michigan, which serves Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Van Buren counties. “We want to recreate some of the spirit of original. We are hopeful people will follow their own happy pace, whether that means running or walking, and doing it from a safe distance in a place they feel comfortable — that can be down their own street in a park or anywhere.”

A 10-week physical activity-based youth development program for girls in third through eighth grade that culminates yearly in a 5K race, Girls on the Run helps young girls develop their confidence, connection, character, kindness, volunteerism and their running endurance. Each year, Girls on the Run serves around 800 local children.

“We serve girls 8 to 14, and those are such incredibly formative years as they move into high school and make many challenging decisions,” Carragher said. “Girls on the Run teaches girls so many life skills and how to channel them through physical activity by meeting them where they are at. … I have seen so many girls grow so much through this program. The confidence they gain in incredible.”

The virtual 5K, which is open to the public to participate, will replace the annual 5K and help raise funds for the organization. While Carragher said there is no current fundraising goal, the money raised from the event will support the Girls on the Run program as a whole.

Roughly 70 percent of Girls on the Run Southwest Michigan’s participants use scholarships provided by the organization, and Carragher said she expects to see more scholarship requests post-COVID-19 due to the financial stresses that are being placed on parents. The money raised will be used toward those scholarships and ensuring girls across southwest Michigan can continue to participate in the program.

“The funds go to ensure we can deliver this program again,” Carragher said. “Girls on the Run wants to come back and change the lives of girls in southwest Michigan. That’s why we have to do this fundraiser now — to ensure we can do it again.”

Before pivoting to a virtual format, the 5K race was set to take place at Southwestern Michigan College in Dowagiac — an opportunity Carragher was excited for due to Dowagiac’s centralized location. Though the race can no longer take place in person at SMC, Carragher said she hopes the people of Dowagiac — and all of southwest Michigan — will still participate virtually.

“It’s going to be fun, and it’s so accessible,” she said. “I’d love to see everyone jump on board.”

Readers can find more information about how to sign up for the event on the Girls on the Run Southwest Michigan Facebook page.