Running has been an emotional outlet for exercise science major Olivia McAnirlin ’17 of Newport, Maine, since she was 10. “I started running because I had a lot of problems with self-esteem,” she said. “I wanted to better myself and found that exercise is really good for that.”

Her mom helped her run her first 5K when she was in fifth grade. In high school, Olivia decided she wanted to complete a sprint triathlon and convinced her dad, who had never been a runner, to train with her. That experience transformed running into a passion for the family; her dad is now a sponsored triathlete, and Olivia and her mother have run a marathon together.

When it came time to choose a major, Olivia decided on exercise science because she wants to motivate others to improve themselves through exercise in the same way she has. The Wesson Honors student, who already plans to pursue a graduate degree in exercise science, has been dedicated to building on her classroom knowledge with internships that offer pre-professional experience. While an intern at Colby-Sawyer’s Hogan Sports Center, Olivia created the Love Your Body Project to empower women “to love their bodies at all sizes” and “to view calories as fuel and not something you should restrict all the way out of your diet.”

From that experience, she learned she loved working with people, which prepped her for another internship last summer at Camp Runoia, an overnight camp for girls in Belgrade, Maine.

Olivia’s typical day there focused on facilitating group fitness activities for girls ages 8-13. “I also served as a counselor,” she said, “so I was in the cabin with the girls every night, tucking them in. I had a variety of roles, but they all fed into the ideas of self-confidence and self- improvement.” In addition to teaching yoga, boot camp and sport conditioning classes, she also ran the camp’s ropes course and read to her campers every night.

The camp, Olivia said, is a sort of utopia where young girls are able to grow, build friendships and be who they want to be. “A lot of topics from my sport and gender class came into play,” she said. “In that class, we discussed the differences between young girls and young boys when they’re together versus separate. Before Runoia, I had never seen so many young girls together at once.”

The Belgrade Lakes 5K took place during the last week of Olivia’s internship. “If some of the girls thought they couldn’t run,” she said, “I let them know I believed they could.” And they did – Olivia led a flock of about 20 across the finish line. “When we came back to camp, everybody was waiting for us and cheering,” she said. Girls who had struggled with comparing themselves to others and were thinking negatively about themselves just a few weeks before had managed to accomplish something they never thought possible. When Olivia saw the looks of triumph and pride as the runners finished the race, she knew she had chosen the right path.