OTTAWA -- A training session was held in Ottawa's Hutton Park Thursday evening for young girls getting ready to run their first 5-kilometre race.

"It’s fun to run, I love running,” said Keren, one of the young participants taking part in the Girls on the Run Program, an afterschool program aimed at developing social, emotional and physical life skills through sport.  

"Running makes me feel strong," added participant Sabina. 

Established in the U.S., the Ottawa chapter is the first of its kind in Canada born out of a partnership with the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group Foundation.

"What we know is they (females) drop out at higher rates than their male counterparts,” explained Janice Barresi, the Executive Director of the OSEG Foundation. "A program like this helps them respond to their needs at a critical time in their growth."

To date, the program has nurtured over two million girls ages 13 and under. The Ottawa sessions run for 10 weeks and are led by certified volunteer coaches like Vanessa de Hoog.

"It’s a program with a specific curriculum designed to build their self esteem to help them develop athletically,” said de Hoog.

Between laps around the park the girls learned other important life lessons around building good relationships, creating goals and how to deal with conflict. 

This round involved girls from the Russell Heights and Bayshore communities taking part, but plans are in motion to bring the program to other communities in the city.

"I think it’s something once more people hear about it are going to be happy to come on board and make a difference in the lives of these young women,” said de Hoog. 

And for Girls on the Run participants, it isn’t about who crosses the finish line first, but about the friendships made and the lessons learned along the way.

"I like running with my friends but mostly I like running because it’s exercise and it’s good for your health,” said participant Zawadi.