Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Girls can do anything, including run a 5k

My name is Dr. Joe and I'm a reformed male chauvinist.

Because of my proclivity toward chauvinism I often encounter demons attempting to dissuade my abstinence from honky-tonk bars, cheap whiskey and assorted desperadoes. There is fascination about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably alluring.

In my weakest moments I think of the words of Mick Jagger: “You don't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.” I call that serendipity. Just when you are about to fall off the razor's edge, something happens. It's nothing short of divine intervention.

The other day I was pecking away at Chapter 41 of my great American novel, trying to write how my character, Elijah Bravo, would fall in love with Nguyet Luu. I was enjoying a cup of black tea when Julie Battaglia walked into Starbucks and told me about Girls on the Run, an after-school program that uses running as a vehicle to empower elementary-age girls. Julie told me they were looking for a volunteer coach to help with the program at Paradise Canyon and La Cañada elementary schools.

I'm often asked how retirement is going. My answer is always the same: “I'm looking for mission.”

My mom taught me to always say “yes” to opportunity. So I called Leanne Mothershead, the regional coordinator of Girls on the Run. We spoke at length. I was impressed by her passion and vision. She offered me a coaching position. I accepted. I found my mission and at the same time I heeded my mom's advice.

The Girls on the Run program builds self-esteem, confidence, positive attitudes, exposes girls to healthy lifestyles, addresses social issues such as bullying, and teaches kindness and community service. Training and running are incidental to mentoring girls to be their best. Each of the girls will eventually run five kilometers.

The training sessions are held two days per week, beginning with “getting on board.” The girls sit in a circle and discuss myriad concerns pertinent to emerging young women. A warm-up follows, when the team plays assorted games in preparation for a workout.

Girls on the Run is embedded with the precepts of philosophy and psychology. Kurt Khan, founder of Outward Bound, believed, “Innate decency and moral development are enhanced through physicality.” Socrates tells us that a complete person is spiritual, intellectual, social and physical.

Mothershead said, “The program enables girls to leave the ‘girl box,' thus developing their authentic selves.”

Girls on the Run is a remarkable effort, celebrating the voice of young girls. There's purity in its methodology. The program is not about competition and winning, it's about life, being a better person, a good teammate, and learning how to strive to do your best and be your best.

When I trained for the Golden Gloves, there was a poster with a quote from Percy Cerutty, famed Australian track coach, hanging on the gym wall. “Thrust against pain; pain is the purifier,” it said. He pioneered holistic training using poetry, philosophy, meditation and the idyllic scenes of Australia to make athletes better people. Through perseverance, dedication and commitment, running gave his athletes an education in life. Cerutty gave them a whole philosophy of life.

Girls on the Run is a great program. If you have a girl at Paradise Canyon or La Cañada elementary schools, send Mothershead or me a note and we'll make her part of the team. Our respective email addresses are: leanne@ and

Mothershead and I will be your child's coaches. We'll prepare her to run that 5k with the belief that girls can do anything. At the end of the season she will have a philosophy of life because she followed my mom's advice and said “yes” to opportunity.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at

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