An accomplished runner, Kira Wilsterman was on the cross country teams at Decatur High School and Evansville University in Indiana.
After taking a break for a few years Wilsterman got back into running and has competed in several marathons (26.2 miles). She now is involved in the sport as a pace group leader in marathons and half-marathons.
However, the girls she mentors as a volunteer coach with Girls on the Run don’t want to hear about that. Instead, the group of third- through fifth-graders likes to hear Wilsterman tell the story of how she and a friend sneaked into a showing of Beverly Hills Cop as sixth-graders.
“I’m always telling the girls stories about things that happened to me,” said Wilsterman, who has been a volunteer with GOTR for 10 years. “They like hearing stuff like that.”
Girls on the Run is an international program that educates preteen girls on life lessons and healthy living. Wilsterman, a third-grade teacher at Oakhurst Elementary School, began the first GOTR program in Decatur. She is the longest tenured GOTR volunteer in the country.
Now, all four K-3 schools in Decatur have a program and there are 12 overall throughout DeKalb County.
When Wilsterman started at Oakhurst she realized there wasn’t an after-school program and found out about Girls on the Run.
“I’ve always been a runner, so I was excited about starting a running club,” Wilsterman said. “I really enjoy helping other people meet their goals.”
As part of the program, each girl participates in a 5K race at the end of the organization’s spring and fall seasons. The fall 5K Atlanta race was held earlier this month in Kirkwood.
“Teaching life lessons and discipline in the pre-teen years are even more important than running,” Wilsterman said. I wish we had something like this when I was growing up. We talk about all kinds of things, like ways to deal with peer pressure and gossiping.”
In a recent session about peer pressure, Wilsterman told the story about how she gave in to her friend’s peer pressure.
“I remember feeling uncomfortable and got busted by the theater manager,” she said. “I got in trouble. I talk to them about ways I could have stood up to my friend.”
Each practice session begins with a life lesson, such as ways to stand up to bullying, before running. The girls get into small groups and discuss ways to handle different scenarios.
“I like to hear [Wilsterman] tell us stories, like how she got into the movie,” said 11-year old Bailey Holbrook, who has been in the program since third grade. We do a lot of fun stuff and we learn how to cooperate with each other.”
Wilsterman said she has learned a lot about herself and about the girls she mentors through the GOTR curriculum.
“You really get to know yourself,” Wilsterman said. “It teaches you how to work within a group and about reaching out to your community.”
Wilsterman said she has enjoyed watching the kids mature through the program.
“You watch the girls grow into their own independence. They want to do this on their own. It’s huge step in their maturity.”
The accomplishment of preteens being able to finish a 5K race is not lost on Wilsterman. Every girl in her program has finished a 5K, she said.
“I’ve watched the kids grow up,” Wilsterman said. “One of the greatest accomplishments is seeing the joy and the smiles on the parents’ faces as they cross the finish line. When they’re 8-10 years old and finishing a 5K race, that’s huge.”