Libby Marko with girls at a Girls on the Run event

Libby Marko ’19 coaches life lessons through a national running program.

Libby Marko ’19 first learned of Girls on the Run (GOTR) at Hey Day, a volunteer fair hosted by Columbia College Student Affairs that introduces students to campus organizations and local volunteer opportunities. She submitted her resume and accepted an internship at GOTR for the first semester of her senior year.

GOTR is a national non-profit running program that teaches girls their power and purpose. Marko worked with the Heart of Missouri Girls on the Run Council under the direction of Executive Director Cheryl Unterschutz.

“Our council provides the Girls on the Run program to more than 25 schools and community centers across mid-Missouri,” Unterschutz says. “When Libby interned with us, we were serving 25 schools and had more than 300 girls enrolled in the program.” Marko assisted with grant writing, delivered items to team sites and helped prepare for the end-of-season 5k race. She also co-coached the Coyote Hill team, comprised of 15 girls in 5th through 9th grade.

Coyote Hill is a Christian children’s home in Harrisburg, Missouri, that serves children who experience difficulties in traditional foster home placements and benefit from a structured intensive care facility. “Girls on the Run is so much more than running,” Marko says. “It helps girls share their emotions and develop social interactions, and it empowers them.”

As a member of the Columbia College softball team from 2017 to 2019, Marko understands the lifestyle that came with being a student-athlete — especially the importance of communication and time management skills and how to work through conflicts. She wanted to instill those values in her team.

Marko and her fellow coaches used the 10-week program to help the girls recognize their inner strength. In addition to running practice, she led bi-weekly lessons that GOTR provides to increase self-confidence, personal connections and communication skills. The program works with girls during a critical developmental stage, encouraging healthy physical and emotional behaviors that will last a lifetime.

She also helped them set and achieve a goal by helping them train to a run a non-competitive 5k. At the 5k event, Marko served as a running buddy to one of the girls from Coyote Hill, helping her run the full 3.1-mile race and encouraging her to see her goal completed.

“This experience for me was one I will never forget,” Marko says. “Getting to coach these girls and seeing all their hard work pay off once they crossed the finish line gave me the chills. Knowing that I have impacted these young girls with such a great program means the world to me.”

The feeling is mutual. Unterschutz recalls a note she received from one of the girls. It said, “Before Girls on the Run I had zero percent confidence. Now I have 100,000 percent confidence! I feel like a queen, that’s how much confidence I have!”

Marko graduated in April 2019 and is currently working to become a board-certified behavior analyst. She is a high-school paraprofessional and a junior-varsity and assistant varsity basketball coach.

This story appeared in the Winter 2019-20 edition of Affinity Magazine. Click here to check out the complete edition of the publication!