In Mercy's fifth year as the sponsor of the Allen Elementary Girls on the Run (GOTR) team, the students from this Canton City school made their best showing yet! Ten students, including one girl with Downs Syndrome, crossed the finish line of this special 5K with a mission to "inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident" through the activity of running.
Head coach Kylee Whited, a special education teacher at Allen Elementary, partnered with Therese Esmont and Kathy Ruppert – both Mercy employees, experienced runners and long-time GOTR volunteers – on teaching, encouraging and training the students for 90 minutes after school every Monday and Wednesday from March through Stark County GOTR race day, which was May 31. The course was marked out in neighborhoods near Walsh University in North Canton.
As is the tradition, additional "running buddies", recruited from among other Mercy employees and Allen Elementary teachers and friends, joined the students on race day to run side by side, if necessary, and cheer them on all the way. Mercy retiree Karen Feller also purchased ice cream for the team following the race, a tradition she’s kept since Allen Elementary formed its team.
Front row: Kristine, Vashni, Kadence, Denae and Jade. Back row: Makehna, KyMera, KyAnna, Nyrii and Ashley.
Special Education Student Helps Create a 'Stand Out' Year
"This was my first year coaching a GOTR team, and I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself in to," says Kylee. "After teaching all day, getting a group of girls in grades 3-5 to get along and run isn’t always the most appealing scenario."
According to Kylee, there were definitely some challenging times, but she found her position "extremely rewarding" because she was able to build deeper and more meaningful relationships with the girls that carried over into the school day.
"I was in a unique position to remind them what it means to be in GOTR and how their behavior/attitude during school reflects on our team," she says.
At the insistence of the other girls on the team, Kylee integrated Jade, a student with Downs Syndrome who was part of her cross-categorical special education class.
"Jade quickly became our biggest cheerleader," says Kylee. "On days the other girls didn’t want to run, Jade got them moving and involved. She really played a key role on our team. Also, during the school day, I was able to pull girls from the team to help out in my class, eat lunch with my students and do other things."
Jade and Kylee run together on race day.
Therese agrees that this year and this team really stand out, in part because of Jade. GOTR Stark authorized a special course for Jade, allowing her to be part of this program within her abilities.
Therese says, “Jade did very well and finished the race right in the thick of many others who were coming in around the 45-minute mark. The team dynamics with Jade were wonderful and gave her classmates a chance to demonstrate empathy and compassion. It really changed things. I mean watching Jade run – how can you not run, too?”
Therese also notes what a privilege it was for the team to have the opportunity to cheer on one late finisher from another school who did not have any supporters at the finish line.
Community Service, Partnerships Were Integral to the Experience
In an effort to remind the girls that life is not only about them, one component of the GOTR program is community service. This year Sister Carolyn Capuano, Mercy’s Vice President of Mission and Ministry, arranged for the team to plant flowers and clean up trash at Mercy Medical Center at St. Paul Square.
Coach Kylee Whited (back, far right) and Mercy employees and coaches Therese Esmont (back, left) and Kathy Ruppert (back, center) pose with the Allen Elementary students from GOTR Stark.
“This is a group of young ladies who are truly not afraid to work hard and get their hands dirty,” says Kathy. “We did our project on Memorial Day. The girls met us at school in the morning and, when we arrived at St. Paul’s, hopped out of the van and went straight to work. They were really able to collaborate and work efficiently and made service fun!”
Mercy contributed toward the purchase of new running shoes for the girls and paid their program/race fee. As a race sponsor, Mercy also provided race packet bags for all participants. Second Sole of Canton opened their doors early on Memorial Day just to help fit the girls with shoes.
“Overall, it was an awesome experience, and getting to know Therese and Kathy made it that much better,” says Kylee. “Without the support from Mercy, this would not have been possible. I am so grateful to have such a strong community partnership that really has a huge, positive impact on our students at Canton City School District!”