Stronger together: REAL Girls program aims to empower La Crosse elementary students

LA CROSSE (WKBT) — The REAL Girls program at Northside Elementary School in La Crosse is introducing fourth- and fifth-grade girls to running, leadership and empowerment.

Being a kid is tough. Sometimes, children can feel like they are all on their own. Seven years ago, Regan Mueller decided to start a program that could change that for North Side girls.

REAL stands for raising and empowering authentic leaders. Today, Mueller and the coaches for the REAL Girls program are putting in the miles to make that mission count.

The club meets three times a week during the springtime, and nearly 50 girls come together to train for a 5K race.

Any distance runner knows that running is all about endurance. While the girls are training in the program, they learn it quickly.

“We ask them to show up. We ask them to push through. We ask them to do more than they think they can do and trust us — and they do,” said Sara Jorgensen, a coach for REAL girls.

In pushing through pain, the physical piece is only half of the battle.

At Northside Elementary, there’s magic in that fight. The club is about running and the journey they take together.

“When they do hard things, there is such a confidence that comes from that,” Mueller said.

Fifth-grader Katherine Hang joined to get stronger.

“I want to prove myself to other people that I can do as much as they can,” Katherine said.

Through the program, the girls are learning to trust themselves and each other. Each week, they run, but they also learn a different skill. Last week, it was crossfit.

“I think all of us do better in life with support around us,” Mueller said.

Elizabeth Poff, also a fifth-grader, understands the mission of the club: resilience.

“You try your hardest, and you don’t give up, and you try and empower others so they can keep running,” Elizabeth said. 

These are tools that will help them find success in the long run and in their upcoming 5K. 

“Every year on race day, these girls get to run their race. And every single girl finishes strong,” Mueller said.

That finish line isn’t the end. The coaches ask the girls to strive for a personal record every day. 

At the end of their practice, the girls and their coaches huddled together.

“One, two, three — STRONGER TOGETHER!” they chanted as the broke the huddle.

Race day will be Saturday, at the Grandad 5K.

If you’d like to cheer them on, keep an eye out for the girls’ bright, matching T-shirts.

This club is not the only one in La Crosse, as State Road Elementary School also has a club.

The girls in the clubs also volunteer their time with local charities.

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