WILISTON – It is week nine of First Strides VT’s annual program, and the recreation fields are buzzing with women tying their shoes, stretching their legs, and eyeing the workout for this week’s First Strides VT gathering.
There are eight groups of women who make up First Strides VT, an exercise program in the summer that aims to rewire the mindset of exercise.
First Strides did not begin on the recreational fields of Williston, where these 125 participants and 17 mentors meet each week. Mentors work with each group and, program coordinator Kasie Enman said, many mentors actually begin as participants in the program.
The program has its roots in Pennsylvania, according to Enman, who has been with the program for nine years. She coordinates alongside Eileen McCoy.
More than an exercise program
Jane Serues began the program in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1997, according to First Stride VT’s website.
The program spread to Vermont when the first coordinator of the Vermont program, Michele Morris, brought it from Pennsylvania to Vermont 20 years ago. Morris currently works at the director of communications at the Chittenden Solid Waste District.
First Strides VT has been running for a total of 19 years-taking one off in 2020, Enman said.
First Strides VT prides itself in being more than a way to get the heart rate up. They describe themselves as “A unique beginner running and/or walking program for women+ based on mentoring, peer support, and lifestyle habits designed to help improve your fitness, self-esteem, and social support network.”
“I find that during the summer it’s easy to just kind of relax, and having a program like this keeps me going,” participant Karla Karstens said.
Each Wednesday the groups meet and exercise together, which looks differently for each group. At the beginning of the program − week one − participants complete a timed mile. The mentors and coordinators then create eight groups of people with similar paces to exercise together for the summer. A couple mentors work with each group to follow the workout designed for each particular week.
At week nine’s meeting, members of group six are handing out name tags to one another. Not every group has these name tags though- it’s a special group six thing, although several members point out that group five has donned flower pins for the 12-week program.
Progress in the program is not necessarily measured by time. The workouts slowly increase the amount of running each week. Progress is defined individually for many people.
“The program builds itself within the 12 weeks,” Enman said.
Many people come back year after year to First Strides VT. The program aims to create a pattern of health in one’s lifestyle, as Enman emphasizes.
“It’s a good way to reset at the beginning of spring for some people and just kind of get a habit of lifestyle going, it’s not necessarily trying to get faster.” Enman said.
The end of the program each year coincides with the Green Mountain Athletic Association’s Round Church Women’s Run in Richmond. The event is not required for members of First Strides VT, but it gives members an opportunity to wrap up the season in a similar female environment, something that is important for members of the program.
Participant Claire Giroux-Williams Emphasizes this. “It definitely pushes us, but the fact that it’s all women is very important to me. I feel like it’s hard to find all women environments.”
Kate O’Farrell is a reporter for the Burlington Free Press. You can contact her at [email protected]