Catherine Keightley, Girls on the Run NOVA

Who she is: Executive Director, Girls on the Run of Northern Virginia

What she does: “When I took over last June as executive director of Girls on the Run, I knew the power of this amazing nonprofit organization,” says Catherine. “After all, I’ve been a jogger for decades, and not a day goes by when I don’t tie up my running shoes and head out for a five-mile run. I love being able to share that passion with other girls and their moms.”

Why she does it: “Being given the opportunity to inspire third through eighth-grade girls to stay true to themselves and live free from societal stereotypes was a dream job that I still can’t believe is mine,” she says.


By Hope Katz Gibbs

Girls on the Run is a 12-week, after-school curriculum innovatively weaves training for a 5K run with lessons that empower girls to celebrate their bodies, honor their voices, and embrace their gifts. The national organization has dozens of local chapters across the US and presently, more than 3,000 girls participate in the program at 180 schools around Northern Virginia.

These are determined bunch of kids. In fact, on Dec. 5, during the first snowfall to hit the metropolitan D.C. region, more than 6,500 girls turned out for the 5K Reindeer Romp Fun Run at the Reston Town Center.

“We weren’t sure if all those girls would make it due to the bad weather, but we were blown away by the response and support for this event,” says executive director Catherine Keightley, who has been running the NOVA program since 2009.
“It actually sold out so fast that we had to turn some runners away. I believe that is simply a testimony to the power of our program. This run is the culmination and celebration of the girls’ efforts, and pairs the girls with a buddy runner to help them achieve their goals.”

Unanimously, the girls all attest to loving the program, Catherine explains. But recently she received a letter from a mom who expressed her appreciation so articulately, that she had to share it:

_Dear Catherine,

My daughter is enrolled in a special-education class. Finding her extra-curricular fitness activities that will be “successful” can be difficult. Between her developmental struggles and a safety concern, it’s nearly impossible. And it’s particularly sad because my daughter wants to run, and is built for running: long, strong legs and lots of energy! For years I’ve tried unsuccessfully to locate a suitable track program. Even tried to get her to run with me but being the mom, her interest was less than enthusiastic.

Then along came GOTR. It turned out to be even better than I could have dreamed, for endless reasons! Most importantly, because of the coaches. The kind, patient, motivating, sensitive coaches. They successfully created an environment that my daughter not only “fit in,” but also excelled, and LOVED (not a common phenomena for my little one). Every moment, from the very first practice through crossing the 5K finish line, coaches infused her with confidence in her ability and herself. She took those messages to heart. She also looked forward to their notes sent home each week, their fitness gifts, along with all the ways she was challenged to maximize her potential.

She and the girls felt part of not just a “girls club,” but a cohesive, bonded team. Well done, GOTR coaches! I personally was impacted, too. To watch how seriously she took GOTR was an exciting new thing for me! Every practice-eve seeing her initiate the packing of her GOTR clothes, panicking if she couldn’t find the GOTR-gifted water bottle, etc. Also witnessing visible, tangible signs of the rise in her self-esteem … it’s more than words can describe.

There are so many more compliments I could give about the fun bus ride to and from the race, the shirts and pizza party/medals. The list goes on and on. So on behalf of my daughter and myself, we thank you, thank you, thank you! Because of GOTR, she now loves running.

The Woman Behind Girls on the Run

Although Catherine is pleased and proud to pick up the torch, she says the organization’s founder, Molly Barker, deserves all the credit.

“Girls on the Run has 150 chapters around the United States and Canada, thanks to the vision and foresight of Molly Barker, who founded the organization in Charlotte, N.C., in 1996,” Catherine explains.

Indeed, the four-time Hawaii Ironman triathlete began running at the age of 15, when she found herself stuck in the “girl box,” when only girls who were a certain size with a certain beauty were popular; when girls who wanted to fit in had to mold their personalities and bodies to fit the requirements of the box.

Molly kept running. Years later, on July 7, 1993, she took off on a sunset run and found the inspiration that grew into Girls on the Run. Using her background in counseling and teaching, current research on adolescent issues and her personal recovery from alcoholism, she developed the earliest version of the curriculum with the help of 13 brave girls at Charlotte Country Day School. Twenty-six girls showed up for the next session, then 75, and so the program grew.

The national magazine Runner’s World awarded Molly its Golden Shoe Award in 1998 for contributions to the community through running. That resulted in calls from across the country, and Molly decided to share her vision with the world. Girls on the Run, International, a 501© (3) nonprofit, was born in 2000.

GOTR is now in over 150 cities across North America, with tens of thousands of girls and women participating. In 2007, GOTR hosted over 70 end-of-season races, with over 60,000 people participating.

The program has been featured in People, Runner’s World, Running Times, Redbook, Women’s Day, O Magazine and Forbes as well as on MSNBC, ABC News, NBC News, NPR, ESPN, and CNN News.

More about Catherine

With more than 17 years experience in marketing strategy, branding, membership and customer programs, writer and PR expert Catherine excels at developing marketing strategies that meet and exceed revenue goals on challenging budgets and timelines.

In her new role as executive director of Girls on the Run of Northern Virginia, a position she began in June 2010 after spending nearly a decade working as an independent marketing consultant, Catherine had the opportunity to visit with Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell this winter.

“It was wonderful to tell Gov. McDonnell about Girls on the Run,” Catherine says. “He was impressed, and it was exciting to have someone like him know more about the good work our girls are doing.”

Prior to becoming executive director, Catherine was instrumental in helping to organize and promote an incredibly successful fundraising benefit for Kidsave International last spring, called Kismet for Kidsave. It raised nearly $140,000 for the program that helps connect kids in foster care with loving families.

For more information about Girls on the Run, contact Catherine at

About Girls on the Run

Girls on the Run of Northern Virginia was established in 2001; the office is located in Fairfax. For more information visit

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