For Girls on the Run, a May 21 5K is about more than just exercise; it’s about confidence and character | Entertainment/Life

After running the equivalent of three miles around City Park’s Great Lawn, 9-year-old Zoe Lamb rested her hands on her knees and took a few deep breaths. Zoe and about a dozen other girls were practicing for an upcoming 5K race hosted by Girls on the Run New Orleans — a nonprofit empowering third graders through fifth graders with running, teaching life skills and building confidence and character.

“I thought it would be fun to meet other people and exercise a lot,” Zoe said, explaining why she signed up for Girls on the Run. “And it’s just really fun to do.”

The 5K, which takes place May 21 in Joe Brown Park, will be the organization’s first since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Presented by the Oscar J. Tolmas Charitable Trust, the race is open to the public.

Head coach Megan Peres, left, runs next to Nomi Phillips, 11.

“It’s very exciting,” said Julieanne Lund, who became the organization’s executive director in early 2020. “I feel like a kid in a candy shop, honestly.”

Since the pandemic led to the widespread cancellation of social events, Lund is experiencing the race as an executive director for the first time.

“I like to say we’re the most joyful 5K, and we’re the most joyful organization because we’re focused on girl power and lifting each other up,” she said.

Much more than running

Girls on the Run is a national nonprofit with programming in more than 12,000 locations throughout North America. The New Orleans council, which launched in 2010, comprises close to 50 sites. Some are connected to specific schools, while others — such as the City Park site — bring together girls from various neighborhoods.

Assistant coach Juliette de Wolfe hugs Nomi Phillips, 11, during a Girls on the Run practice for its 5K run.

Although it is based around physical activity, Girls on the Run is actually a social, emotional and learning program, spanning 10 weeks. During practice, the participants focus on life skills, such as learning how to manage stressful situations and develop friendships outside of their social circle.

Volunteer coaches guide the girls through a curriculum meant to foster confidence and encourage community service, all while preparing for the celebratory 5K race.

“Girls on the Run is really about running at your happy pace in a noncompetitive environment,” Lund said.

Each time they meet, the girls are introduced to a new skill, and they integrate that skill into the running portion of practice.

Madeline Toepfer, 9, left, and Margot Trapani, 9, run laps during a practice session.

“It’s never just aimlessly running,” Lund said. “They are running while using those critical skills, so they can start using them in their daily life.”

Registration fees are based on a sliding scale, ranging from $25 to $225.

“That way, every girl can participate,” Lund said, noting that 50% of runners join the program through financial aid and scholarships.

Ten-year-old Sydney Cornish signed up because she enjoys track and field, and getting fit. But this Saturday she looks forward to just having fun.

That’s also the case for 10-year-old Vivienne O’Leary.

“I think I’m ready for the 5K, because I have done a few things like this before,” she said.

The race starts at 8 a.m. But before the runners take off toward the finish line, they can jam to the rhythms of the Hot 8 Brass Band and mingle with Mardi Gras Indians.

Registration costs $35 and includes an event T-shirt, a medal, post-race food and drinks, and a dance party. Friends and family are welcome to join the fun. According to the nonprofit, their last 5K — which took place in the fall of 2019 — brought together 1,000 community members. For more information on how to sign up, visit Proceeds benefit Girls on the Run.

On Saturday, girls will sport a “No. 1” sign (and possibly colorful face paint, glittery hair and tutus).

“Every girl is number one in Girls on the Run,” Lund said. “But Girls on the Run impacts everyone who touches it — from volunteers to sponsors and partners. It’s such an empowering and inspirational program. It’s wonderful when I hear a woman who is a volunteer coach say, ‘I wish I would’ve had Girls on the Run when I was growing up.’”

Girls on the Run 5-K 

WHAT: The 10-week Girls on the Run empowerment program culminates with a 5K run that’s open to the public. Proceeds benefit the organization.

WHEN: 8 a.m. May 21

WHERE: Joe Brown Park, 5601 Read Blvd., New Orleans

COST: $35 registration includes an event T-shirt, a medal, post-race food and drinks, and a dance party. For more information on how to sign up, visit

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