“Run! Come on, run!”
I cannot count on one hand how many times I have yelled these phrases. From the first day at my site I found myself having to rally my students with these enthusiastic and undoubtedly irksome statements. Before I started serving I had never run more than three miles. With that minimal running experience, I began as a running leader for Students Run Philly Style at Penrose Elementary. Students Run Philly Style is an organization that trains students (ages 12-18) for the half and full marathon in Philadelphia.
I suppose it was because of my own uncertainty as a runner, and my responsibility as a running leader, that I found myself encouraging students at the back of the pack. During practice in the fall I began running (and many times walking) with one particular 12-year-old student during the 2 or 3 or 6 miles the team was expected to run. At the start of the year, running with him was like pulling teeth. I would run up and down, more than forward, while trying to encourage him to run. Throughout practice with him we would talk about the school day, family, or something random like favorite foods. Anything I could think of to keep him distracted while we ran. However, talking with a shy 7th grader is not as easy as it sounds. There were many times when we would just run with long silences between us as I tried to think up another question to ask him.
When it was time for the Philadelphia half-marathon in November, this 7th grader and I ran and walked together for almost four hours. I was probably very annoying to him at times, using all of my trite phrases to urge him to run, but I was not bothersome enough for him to tear away from me in a sprint. When we finally crossed the finish line I was so proud of him. After all his hard work, he had finished 13.1 miles. While I did not realize at the time, this accomplishment was just a stepping-stone to the development of his confidence and self-esteem. Over the next few months, he seemed to be coming out of his shell. When the season started back up in March, we began training for the Broad Street Run, a ten-mile race. During the practices leading up to Broad Street, the changes in this 7th grader really began to manifest. He was encouraging the other students to run and added a goofy element to practice when he would yell something silly like “I got my money on you!”
On May 6th, 2012, he and I ran Broad Street together. He ran the entire race. Unlike the half-marathon or during other practices in the fall, he did not stop once to walk. While he was not the fastest runner, he finished running. It was amazing! I saw him in September struggling with two miles and come May he was running ten miles straight through. This physical improvement had not developed alone, but in conjunction with a mental improvement. I think he understands better now what he can accomplish and it is so rewarding to have witnessed that progression. On May 20th, 2012, he and I finished a 5K together. Running the entire race, he achieved his goal of finishing under 50 minutes. At the end of this race, we had something more to celebrate than just crossing the finish line. Over seven months, he and I ran exactly 26.2 miles together, a full marathon. While running up to this number, I was able to see a student really impacted by running at Penrose within the Students Run program. I am so happy I was given the opportunity to become a running leader and work with my students at Penrose. This was just one of the many amazing experiences I have enjoyed during my year at school and I am hoping to fit in many more before I have to leave!
-Lisa Stepelevich, Health and Fitness Advocate