School kids run for fun, fitness

February 13, 2007 - 12:29AM
MARINE PFC. DEVIN STARR and Alice Byrne student Juan Covarrubias started out the morning laps at the school Monday morning. After the first lap, more students joined in.
A handful of students at Alice Byrne Elementary School have run the equivalent of a marathon during the past four months -- with some help from a squad from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma.

It was hard, I guess. Cold, said Chase Torrence, one of the sixth-graders who finished the marathon. I think I could have done better, but I'm proud.

The Mustang Marathon project was organized by Allison Alejo, the mother of a first-grader at Alice Byrne.

I ran a marathon in June. It was just, to me, a life-long goal to finish one, Alejo said.

Alejo decided to use that accomplishment to get her son, Andreus, and his classmates at Alice Byrne Elementary School in better shape.

Starting back in November, Alejo has been gathering groups of students on the playground field every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. They run laps around the field before classes begin in the morning.

Four times around the field is the equivalent of one mile. To finish the marathon, Alejo said they will have to run 106 laps -- more than 26 miles in all.

Alejo said about half the school initially signed up to participate but, as time went on, students started to drop.

To keep them enthusiastic about the project, Alejo called in reinforcements.

When I first called the Marines, I thought it was just going to be a one-day thing, Alejo said. They come three days a week. It was just amazing.

Pfc. Devin Starr has been one of the most committed runners. While duties at the base have kept all of the Marines from coming every morning, Starr still made time to do some laps Monday morning.

It's a fun thing to do, Starr said. They like running with us. They think it's fun. It helps them keep up with the running.

Together, the entire school has run more than 1,400 miles.

That's basically to San Diego eight times, Alejo said.

The final run of the Mustang Marathon will be Wednesday morning. Of more than 100 students who were first involved, the marathon has worn down all but a committed few. Alejo said 14 students have finished. There are up to five more who can complete it if they push themselves to make those final laps.

You either finish or you don't, Alejo said.

Alejo said she wants to do another marathon project next year. She said that even though only a handful of the students went all the way, she wants this accomplishment to start a pattern of behavior that will keep them fit.

The kids finished it. They worked for it. Running is something they can do for the rest of their lives, Alejo said.

--Running toward an aerial jump--

Ranae Steen is jumping out of an airplane to get her students into fitness.

Steen, who teaches third grade at Gary A. Knox Elementary School, is skydiving with the U.S. Army's precision parachute team, the Golden Knights, on Feb. 28, and she is using her jump as an opportunity to get the kids into shape.

In P.E., I was teaching a unit on physical fitness and we did a couple of laps, Steen said. Everybody can do it. You don't need special equipment. So I decided ... if we could structure something for the kids to do, they'd probably do it.

Steen challenged the students to a marathon running event. Every recess they do laps around the playground field.

The class with the highest marathon participation rate, along with the 20 individual students who have run the most laps, will go on a field trip to watch her jump.

Steen uses marbles and punch-cards to keep track of how many laps the students have run. One class, Tamy Teeter's fifth-graders, has already logged more than 250 miles.

The walking just cleans your mind, said Lissette Mendez, one of Teeter's students.

Walter Lopez, another fifth-grader, has a competition going with his friend Mark Munos to see who can run the most miles. Walter has already done 35 and has assured himself a place on the field trip among the top 20 runners. But his goal is higher than that.

I want to be the first one to reach 100 miles, he said.

Steen said that, at any given recess, 30-40 kids are out on the field running.

In all, 40 percent of the students at Gary Knox have gotten involved. The entire school has logged more than 1,400 miles.

It far exceeded what I thought it would do, Steen said.

Sarah Reynolds can be reached at or 539-6847