Ashley Armistead’s two young sons attended the same school as Molly Barker’s children in Charlotte, North Carolina in the 1990s. Barker is the founder of the well-known girls’ running program, Girls on the Run. As an athlete-runner with a background in health and sports science herself, Armistead believed in the program and coached alongside Baker for three seasons.
With elementary-aged sons, Armistead saw firsthand that there was a gap in this sort of programming for boys. While she was encouraged when Girls on the Run piloted Boys on the Run. Unfortunately, it didn’t take off. As a parent, she shared that she often heard statements like: “boys are too competitive,” “boys will be boys,” and “man up,” as part of an unwritten ‘Boy Code’ that suggests that boys are generally prone to misbehave and “be bad.”
“It was disappointing to observe how friends, people, and society as a whole were selling them short.”
Fueled by concern, as well as the empathy and compassion she saw within her own sons, Armistead was determined to do something positive for them and develop a program that teaches boys about emotional intelligence while serving as a healthy physical outlet that encourages positive competition.
“We time our 5ks so that boys can set goals and try to improve. We encourage competition that is meant to make everyone better and not beat the other guy down so everyone finishes the program stronger physically, socially, and emotionally than when they started.”
After meetings with personal connections, thorough research, and general tenacity, Armistead created Let Me Run. The program is now in its 11th year with teams across 24 states. In a society so focused on winning, the program’s goals are more holistic. Let Me Run emphasizes cardiovascular health and fitness through running, redefining the idea that success does not always mean winning while teaching boys to recognize and celebrate strengths in others. Armistead sees the societal impact of this approach.
“When boys are raised with their own positive sense of self-esteem and sense of security, they will respect girls’ and women’s achievements. I believe that we will be better as a society on the whole.”
The program continues to scale as society is embracing more opportunities for women. Armistead sees a positive connection between the two.
“We are seeing a growth in opportunities for women and girls to take on more leadership and CEO roles. By teaching boys to be strong and secure in their own mental health, we create space for everyone to reach their potential. We will all benefit.”
While the global pandemic has dramatically impacted the ability of Let Me Run, and Girls on the Run, Ashley shared that their plan is to evaluate the situation on a state-by-state basis and possibly condense down to fewer weeks.
“We will continue to work with our participants in regions across the country to ensure the health and safety of our boys during this time.”
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