By Sarah Colson
Between math class, navigating lunchroom politics and figuring out who your true friends are, elementary school can be tough. Talicia Copney, a third grader at North Side Elementary School in downtown Johnson City, said though that might be the case, one organization, Girls on the Run (GOTR), is helping her step outside of her comfort zone and run forward into the world of fitness and fun.
At the very first GOTR practice, Copney was nervous: “I was kind of nervous because a lot of the girls that were there, I didn’t know,” she said. “Some were older than me.”
Now, Copney’s coaches and teammates said she is “all smiles.”
“But really, I was frightened,” Copney said (with a smile) of her first few practices and races. “I always get nervous so the smile just comes out for some reason. But Girls on the Run inspired me and helped me understand that even if somebody doesn’t accept me for being a girl, I can still do things.”
One of those “things” Copney and her teammates at North Side have done recently is to win the “Pink Shoe” award for being one of the top two teams in the area with the most people registered at their 5K two weeks ago, the race that Copney ran her fastest time in at 38 minutes. According to Kaytee Dean, North Side’s head GOTR coach, that accomplishment is thanks to her team of 14 girls.
“One of the girls on our team said, ‘If each of us could get 10 people to run under our name, that’s 140 people. That would be about half of our school population,’” Dean said. “When we won they were tickled to death.”
The team won a pink, sparkly, bedazzled running shoe and $1,000, which the girls opted to put towards new playground equipment for the school.
Dean, who also teaches fourth grade, started coaching GOTR when her co-worker, Marci Pearson started a team at North Side.
“It has changed my life ever since,” Dean said.
Now, she stays active with CrossFit and running 5Ks every chance she gets. It was through her connection to her gym that she found enough coaches to volunteer time to coach GOTR this season.
For Copney, staying fit is great. But her favorite part of GOTR is the friends she’s made along the way.
“I love being around the other girls and just running,” she said. “It feels good to know that people are there with you. My favorite thing about GOTR is getting to run with people because you don’t always get to do that, sometimes people are working.”
One of those people who is often working but who lives for those moments with his daughter, is Copney’s father, Vince Redd. Her dad runs every race he can with her and he “thrives” on being able to participate in things like GOTR.
“I’m proud of her for taking the initiative to do the race and for inviting me to come along,” Redd said. “I’m super proud to be her dad and to be able to come across the finish line with her.”
As for Copney, when asked about what it’s like to have her dad with her mile-by-mile, she responded with, not surprisingly, all smiles.
“Running with him is very, very weird because he acts crazy and just screams out my name and I’ll be like, ‘Oh my gosh, dad, just be quiet.’ I want to just be quiet so he is nervously crazy. But it’s also really, really fun.”
Redd said his favorite part of GOTR is that it opens up other doors for his daughter and her classmates and gets them outside of their comfort zones, which he obviously is a big fan of, according to Copney.
“I’m excited about her and all of her classmates doing things like this because in the future it helps them to jump into other things to pursue and to be able to say that they finished something and accomplished all this,” he said. “So in the future when they see a hill or they see an obstacle, they can keep going and keep on keeping on.”
When it comes to Copney’s “all-smiles” attitude, her father said she gets it from all the positive influences she’s had in her life, especially from her grandmother and aunt. “She’s got a very strong influence of women and ladies around her,” he said. “They’ve been through a lot so they’re able to move forward and just be a blessing to other people. So something that she definitely understands is that having fun, being with other people and seeing other people have fun, is a joy.”
Along with finding joy in community, the other aspect of GOTR that Pearson and Dean both said was vital to a young girl’s development is the self-esteem and positive self-image staying in shape with her friends and family develops.
“Our girls need positive role models that can help them through,” Dean said. “It’s hard being a girl. We need to learn how to treat others and how to treat ourselves with respect. It’s definitely important for them to see that they have a friend, a support group, and people who are going to be here for them and keep moving them forward in life and on the track.”
For Copney, role models like Dean have given her an even bigger goal than just completing a 5K. When she grows up, the bubbling third grader said she wants to be a GOTR coach herself.
“They’ve been helping me with GOTR because there are times that I wanted to quit because of the running,” Copney said of the female coaches and family members in her life. “But they always say that GOTR will really help me, so I stay in it and it has helped me a lot.”
Copney said she wanted to thank her coaches for their role in her life, and for being the new inspiration behind her once-nervous smile. “I want to thank them for helping me and sometimes they run with me and they’re never negative. They always have a great smile on their face.”
To find out more about GOTR in East Tennessee, visit gotrnetn.org.