Runners' stories target self-esteem

Women urge listeners to reach for excellence

April 24, 1999|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

To help beat low self-esteem among schoolgirls, two world-class runners with different life stories toured three Baltimore schools yesterday to preach the virtue of putting one foot in front of the other.

The object was to spread the word about a free Girl Power! mile run June 13 at the Inner Harbor, part of a public education campaign started by Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala. The run, for girls ages 9 to 14, will take place just after two longer Avon cosmetics company-sponsored women's races.

Kathrine Switzer, 52, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, in 1967, told a group at the Institute of Notre Dame on Aisquith Street that she felt neither talented nor successful while growing up.

Then, her father advised her to run one mile a day to get in shape. She is still known as "K.V." because that was how she enrolled for the all-male marathon at age 20, making it up the infamous Heartbreak Hill to finish.

That accomplishment, she said, "changed my life and gave me a tremendous sense that there was nothing in the world I couldn't do." As an adult, she said, she has secured a major corporate career with the Avon Running Global Women's Circuit and visited many countries.

Teen-age girls in Catholic school uniforms said they were inspired by Switzer's tale and that of Alisa Harvey, 33, an Olympic hopeful.

Harvey told of being a shy child sharing hand-me-down clothes with her five brothers and sisters in an "impoverished" family. If she had not been as fleet of foot, she said, she would not have had "a free [college] education my family could not have afforded."

10-kilometer win

Last year, Harvey won the Avon 10-kilometer race in Baltimore, a feat she hopes to repeat in June. But as she and Switzer visited Fallstaff Middle School, Harlem Park Middle School and the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland, they concentrated on participation rather than competition.

Recalling that she suffered a loss of self-esteem at age 11, when "girls start to get cliquey," Rebekah Reynolds, 16, said she got back on track. "Running was the one thing I could do, if you can't kick or throw a ball."

Studies indicate that Reynolds was not unusual. Age 11 is when many girls' self-image starts to suffer, the studies say.

`Positive behaviors'

Girls involved in sports, Switzer said, tend to "choose positive behaviors for the rest of their lives" and are less likely to smoke, use drugs and have unwanted pregnancies.

Some girls left with a new spring in their step. "This talk has inspired me to run. I think I'm going to prepare. My goal is five miles," said Tamara Johnson, 18.

"After this assembly, I have more encouragement," said Stephanie Abt, 16. "Maybe if I go run, it will give me more self-esteem."

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