Girls on the run
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On the day Stephanie Kliethermes turned 27, she spent just shy of four hours running 26.2 miles in Boston.
Kliethermes, a Ph.D. candidate in biostatistics at the University of Iowa, ran the 116th Boston Marathon April 16, practicing what she preaches to the young girls she coaches through Girls on the Run Johnson County. Pounding the pavement in smoldering 90-degree heat, Kliethermes finished in 3 hours, 57 minutes.
The marathon was a life-changing experience for the coach and an amazing way to celebrate her birthday. She will always remember the bus shuttling the runners 26.2 miles out to Hopkinton to start the race, the runners high-fiving kids along the way; the spectators handing out water, ice, and popsicles; and running through water hoses and being sprayed by squirt guns.
“I don't often allow myself to thoroughly enjoy a race because I tend to be focused on time goals, but my first Boston was magical,” Kliethermes says. “It reconnected me with the true reasons why I run.”
And why does she run? To challenge herself, but also to show others—especially the members of Girls on the Run Johnson County—that they can accomplish their own goals if they set their mind to it.
Kliethermes has volunteered with Girls on the Run for five years. The nonprofit organization, an affiliate of Girls on the Run International, works with third- through sixth-grade girls with the mission “to educate and prepare girls for a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living.” The program provides training for a 5K along with healthy living education to more than 200 girls in more than a dozen area schools in Iowa City, Coralville, North Liberty, and Solon. The Girls on the Run Johnson County spring season began Feb. 20; the end-of-the-season 5K will be held Sunday, May 6.
“Running helps build confidence, respect, and well-being,” Kliethermes says. “The importance of an active lifestyle is a message I believe in, and one that I want to share with others.”
Dozens of Iowa City and UI volunteers help Girls on the Run Johnson County run a successful program. Involvement can take many shapes: assistant coach, running buddy, or event/fundraiser planner. Kliethermes has dedicated her time to coaching since January 2008.
Girls on the Run focuses on the physical, mental, emotional, and social benefits that comes from running and leading healthy, balanced lives—a mission that Kliethermes believes in.
“I have never been part of a program whose mission I support as wholeheartedly and authentically as Girls on the Run,” Kliethermes says. “Here is my opportunity to introduce to young girls all that sports and an active lifestyle gave me: self-confidence, discipline, perseverance, courage, and so much more.”
Kliethermes participated in basketball, volleyball, and track at Lawrence University during her undergraduate years. After coming to Iowa for graduate school, she missed sports and the competitive nature. Kliethermes took her love for running into a more competitive arena and began training for the Chicago Marathon. After her third Marathon, she qualified for Boston.
While proud of her own personal success, Kliethermes is continually amazed by the Girls on the Run program and the achievement of all the girls participating.
“It is about being proud of all accomplishments big and small, and also having fun,” Kliethermes says.
Although she plans on graduating next year, Kliethermes will always remember her dedicated work to the organization and also what it provided back to her.
“I go to practices to inspire and teach the girls, but the girls ultimately inspire me.”