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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Helen Rodreguez, left, Zoar Ramos Madrigal and Ava Segura put on new shoes at Escalante Elementary School in North Salt Lake on Friday, March 23, 2018. The shoes were donated to the students by Girls on the Run, a nonprofit after-school character development program, and ASICS, a sports equipment company. More than 700 free pairs of running shoes will be given to local girls.

SuliafuSALT LAKE CITY — For 8-year-old Aloisia Suliafu, running inspires her and helps develop her brain.

"It's like a dream come true," she exclaimed when she saw her colorful new running shoes donated by Girls on the Run and ASICS, a sports equipment company, with the help of other sponsors.

The groups gave new sneakers to her and 17 other girls at Escalante Elementary Friday.

"I like them because they're comfortable, and they remind me of rainbows," the 8-year-old said.

Heidi Myers, 9, was also enthused about receiving her new shoes. They're her favorite color, and "they're very comfortable," she said.

Girls on the Run is a nonprofit after-school program that integrates running into a learning curriculum to help girls be "joyful, healthy and confident," according to the organization.

This is the nonprofit's 11th year in Utah, and girls in 130 schools across the Beehive State take part.

More than half of the girls involved fall below the poverty line, according to the nonprofit's organizers.

In June, 2,000 girls from around Utah will descend on Salt Lake's Sugar House Park with their running mentors during a 5K race as they finish this year's program.

Before then, 700 girls will receive sneakers from the program's sponsors, as well as handwritten notes of encouragement from volunteers at Intermountain Healthcare's Orthopedic Specialty Hospital.

Aloisia's 10-year-old sister, Katalina Suliafu, says running helps her feel like she can accomplish her dreams. "It just makes me feel like I can do it, and I just feel, like, more healthy," she explained.

Emily Zavala, 10, was also thrilled when she tried on her new shoes. She said she likes them because "it looks like it's better, it's comfortable, better than our (old) shoes."

"We can do better on the practices, instead of (them) slipping off," she said.

She says she likes to run "so I can beat my brother, so I can get the ice cream first sometimes."

When she grows up, Emily wants to be a doctor. Running now can help prepare her for the career because if "somebody's like not breathing or anything," she'll be "faster to save them," she said.

Her friend Ava Segura, 8, likes that her new shoes are different, bright-neon colors. "I just love that," she said.

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When she goes to Girls on the Run after school, she said she learns skills that will help her follow her dreams.

"Yesterday, I learned that you can activate someone's star power by being silly, or you can make them happy," she said. "I would activate someone's star power by being silly and telling them jokes."

Ava says she wants to be a fashion designer or a veterinarian when she grows up.

"And also, the shoes that you gave us today, it gave me kind of inspiring to make a really bright dress," she said.