About Molly Barker
-adj. 1. Genuine and authentic. 2. Not artificial. 3. Free of pretense. 4. How one would describe Molly Barker
Molly Barker, MSW, and four-time Hawaii Ironman triathlete, founded Girls on the Run® in 1996. Combining her counseling and teaching expertise with research on adolescent issues, she developed and delivered the first curriculum with 13 girls in Charlotte, North Carolina. The innovative, experiential program combines training for a 5k event with life-changing, confidence building lessons that enhance the physical and mental health of 8 – 12 year old girls.
Molly first began running at the age of 15 when she found herself stuck in the ‘girl box.’ The girl box is the place where many girls go around middle school when they begin to morph into what they think they should be instead of being who they really are. The messages of the girl box vary, but the overarching theme comes from a culture rooted in the belief that girls and women must conform to a set of standards that are often unattainable and dangerous to our health and well-being.
During a sunset run in 1993, after years of questioning her self-worth and self-image, Molly found the inspiration that grew into Girls on the Run. In 1996, she piloted the earliest version of the 24-lesson curriculum with 13 brave girls. 26 girls came the next season, then 75, and so the program grew. In 2000, Girls on the Run International became a 501c3 organization. Today, Girls on the Run is offered in over 150 cities across North America and hundreds of thousands of girls’ and women’s lives have been changed by the program.
The organization has been featured in many media outlets including People, Runner’s World, Redbook, Women’s Day, O Magazine, Self, Shape, Southern Living, Running Times, CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, NBC News, NPR, ESPN and Forbes. Molly is the recipient of several prestigious national awards including: Redbook magazine’s ‘Strength and Spirit Award,’ which recognizes individuals who are building a better future for all of us; Woman’s Day magazine’s ‘Woman’s Day Award’ that salutes individuals who have used their vision and heart to help fix pressing problems; and the highly prestigious ‘Heroes of Running Award’ from Runner’s World magazine. She is also a lifetime fellow of Ashoka, a global organization that recognizes and supports leading social entrepreneurs who are creating positive systemic change to the planet. Molly is an inspiration to people of all ages.
Molly lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, and enjoys running, cycling and writing. Since creating Girls on the Run, she has authored two books, Girls on Track: A Parent’s Guide to Inspiring our Daughters to Achieve a Lifetime of Self-Esteem and Respect, and Girls Lit From Within. She is passionate about her work but is most inspired by her two children.
From Molly Barker, Founder
In 1976, I bought my first pair of running shoes. I was fifteen, and like most girls that age, trying to figure out who I was inside a changing body. I desperately wanted to fit in with the popular crowd, but I couldn’t fit into the box it placed over my spirit. The box told me things I knew in my heart weren’t true: That the way I behaved and looked was more important than who I was inside. That being a woman meant being quiet and submissive. That having a boyfriend meant having to mold my body and actions to meet prescribed cultural standards. But I stepped in anyway. The years I spent trying to mold my thoughts, body, lifestyle and being into what the box required were extremely painful.
So I ran. I’d put on my running shoes and head for the woods, the streets, wherever my feet would take me. I felt strong. Beautiful. Powerful.
July 7th, 1993 – I remember it well. I put on my running shoes and went for a sunset run. I am not sure during what point of the run the box disappeared, but like a glass womb, it shattered around me and pushed me out, born to an entirely new freedom. It was a moment of personal awakening.
A year later, I began to write the Girls on the Run curriculum. The concept, however, was born long before. It was born in 8th grade when a boy in my class told me that I looked like a boy. It was born when a young woman, weighing 85 pounds and starving herself, told me she needed to lose weight to be beautiful. It was born when a pregnant thirteen-year-old and I took a long walk in the woods.
Girls on the Run is a lot more than a running program. It will, I believe, lead to an entire generation of girls living peacefully and happily outside of the Girl Box.
In the year 2030, I’ll be 70. My daughter will be 32. If I have anything to say about it, she will never have to climb out of the Girl Box. Girls on the Run will shatter these constraints, like the spirit did for me that July night and help her and other girls feel comfortable simply being themselves.
Read Molly’s blog here.