BUILDING STRENGTH FOR A 5K AND FOR LIFE:
Madawaska Students Prep for the Statewide Celebratory 5K
For the second year, the Madawaska Elementary Girls on the Run team made the 5-hour trek on a bus to Brunswick to participate in the GOTR Maine Celebratory 5K on June 4th alongside 700 other students.
A few weeks before the culminating event, Cali Doucette, a fourth grader at Madawaska Elementary School, felt “so excited and also nervous.” Nicole Pelletier, an Assistant Coach and parent to another student on the Madawaska team named Dani, added, “It’s positive conversation and excitement [about the 5K]. The whole program leading up to and including the celebration is so organized and well thought out.”
Cali Doucette, the fourth grader on the Madawaska team, appreciates how the program’s 5K preparation is about much more than running: “I like how it teaches you how to deal with situations that we may not learn from school classes. My favorite activity is learning how to handle situations that sometimes can’t be solved.”
Tricia Armstrong, Madawaska Elementary School Counselor, volunteered to start the program at Madawaska Elementary because it’s easy to implement and teaches social-emotional skills experientially. She believes the best part of the program– and the Celebratory 5K– is that “anyone can do it.” Kids don’t need to be into sports or running to successfully participate. The main purpose of the program, and especially the Celebration 5K, is for students to discover what they are capable of.
Ms. Armstrong says, “When [last year’s GOTR participants] realized they could finish the 5K, they all came back and said to other kids: ‘Anyone can do this.’ So this year, there are a lot more girls who didn’t originally think they could do GOTR. And the other girls said to them, ‘Yes, you can!’ The girls support and motivate each other.”
For months leading up to the spring season, when Madawaska Elementary offers the program after school, students asked Ms. Armstrong when it would start. When the season kicked off in March, the ground was still blanketed in snow. The team practiced in the school hallways when they couldn’t be outdoors.
Both the school faculty and parents saw positive changes in kids, as a result of the GOTR program. A few of the students on the Madawaska team were “very reserved” in school, Ms. Armstrong said. By the end of the season, they were “talking all the time” with peers–not just during GOTR practices but throughout the school day. “One of the moms told me she couldn’t believe how confident and outgoing her daughter had become,” Ms. Armstrong said.
Renee Cyr, parent to a third grader in the GOTR program in Madawaska, agrees the program has long-lasting, positive effects: “I think so many of the [GOTR] lessons are great confidence boosters for these young ladies. Most of all, it’s girls supporting girls, which is important for any age—if they learn and practice it now, they can continue into adulthood.”
Nicole Pelletier, the Assistant Coach in Madawaska and GOTR mom, finds the life skills the program provides to be helpful for her and her whole family: “At home we often use [two GOTR strategies] – taking a breather and using “I feel” statements. This has been helpful for me as a widow and single mother raising three children. Emotions run high at times and these basic skills have helped our family to deal with emotions in a healthy way. It’s so neat how I can just lead with ‘I feel’ and it flows from there. These lessons are practical for kids and grown ups alike!”
As the 5K date approached, the Madawaska team grew proud of the progress they’d made thus far. School Nurse and GOTR Coach Melyssa Pelletier said the team began exhibiting joy and confidence at every practice during the final weeks. Fourth grader Cali Doucette agreed: “I like that we all encourage each other to push through our leg pains and go. I have noticed that I am getting stronger and feeling better about myself.”
The weather the day of the 5K was tough: rainy and unusually cold. Traveling down on the bus the day before, many Madawaska team members were nervous about whether they’d be able to complete the event, due to the weather. Coach Tricia Armstrong, recounted: “I told the girls, ‘You don’t have to run—you just have to go forward.’”
When the 5K began, the girls’ nerves disappeared. “The funny thing is that once they started to run, they all seemed to have their spirits lifted again,” said head coach Tricia Armstrong.
Cali’s mother Robin noted the positive energy and support from community members along the route: “To hear them cheering on the runners throughout the race was so heart-warming. The positiveness throughout it all made it much more special.”
For Cali, it was a great experience. At one point, she noticed a girl she didn’t know who was crying and struggling to keep going. Cali approached her with a “lap counter” bracelet and said, ‘You got this. You’ve been practicing for so long. I believe in you! Finish it strong!” Robin says her daughter Cali is already looking forward to doing it again next year.
All 22 kids on the Madawaska team completed the event. Many waited at the finish line to cheer on others as they completed the run. Coach Tricia noticed about halfway through the season how the girls bonded as team—and it showed at the finish.
The Madawaska team was pretty wet when they boarded the bus for the long journey home, but “they were all giggles and smiles,” according to Tricia. The following week, the team held an award ceremony to honor each student’s growth and accomplishments—and to start planning for next year! The girls already have summertime fundraisers planned to support the 2023-2024 Madawaska Elementary GOTR team’s journey to the Celebratory 5K.