“Who’s ready to run?” someone asked. A rhetorical question– as the chilly, grey sky on Saturday morning couldn’t dampen the spirits of the student runners. They had come from all over the city before 9am, a time when most other teenagers are still sleeping off the school week. Forming a circle, they began short warm up drills in sequence. The focused grunts from squats and toe touches quickly dissolved into chatter– then soon into booming laughter, which echoed brightly across the concrete grounds of LOVE Park. Several adult mentors joined in the warm up conversations with the students, between their own bends, lunges and kicks: they would be running, too.
This determined crew comprises Team LOVE Park, and their excitement was palpable as they geared up for one of their last group runs of the season, down Kelly Drive. Team LOVE Park is one of 50+ student-mentor running teams formed through the Students Run Philly Style program, and this weekend, Team LOVE Park, joined by the other 50+ Students Run Philly Style teams, will meet a long-anticipated goal: crossing the finish line of the tax back international.
Spanning ages 14-17, the students of Team LOVE Park have set goals to collectively complete both the half marathon (13.1 miles) and the full marathon (26.2 miles) events. Students Run Philly Style, founded in 2004, was created with the mission of connecting students with strong adult role-models. These teams provide local youth a safe after-school activity while helping the students set and achieve a large personal goal: the completion of a marathon.
The students and mentors who participate really rise to the challenge– training from March through November, and completing eight races (which are funded through the program). It’s evident that the students, with full support from their Running Leaders, take a great level of personal responsibility and pride in the team outside of practices– from designing their own Team LOVE Park shirts to independently fundraising for team entry in an additional half marathon event earlier in the Fall.
“Who are we?–“
“What do we do?–“
“How do we do it?–“
Dave Johnson, 32, a Running Leader with the Team LOVE Park, notes, “The kids prepare all year. They run all year…” he laughs, “And they train in the summertime– they’ll tell you!” During the school year, the team runs three times per week. “We run Tuesdays and Thursday after school, and on Saturday mornings,” adds Lypheng, 17, who also participates in the track team at his high school. He notes that he ran his first half marathon with Team LOVE Park, and will be running his first full marathon with them, as well. All the students agree that since joining Student Run they feel more healthy and fit. When asked about gym class in school, the question is met with collected laughter: gym class just doesn’t seem so difficult, anymore.
“I think the clinics in the summertime are my favorite part of the training,” notes Alexander, 16, a first-time marathoner. The team goes on to explain how the clinics are for the several hundred students of the combined Students Run teams. Carlos Hernandez, 27, a Running Leader, chimes in, “They do drills together. We’ve had them across the city– down at the sports complex, on the art museum steps…” Dave adds in, “And Belmont, and Pennypack Park. We go all over.”
Traveling for drills isn’t the only time that the students are spread across the city: Team LOVE Park, alone, includes students from seven different schools and neighborhoods across Philadelphia. The high schoolers are close friends now, but with a wide variety of personal backgrounds, they almost certainly wouldn’t have crossed paths if it weren’t for their own personal determination to meet their goals and the support of the Students Run Philly Style program.
So when you see a breeze of royal blue shirts on the course of the Philadelphia Marathon this Sunday, be sure to clap and cheer for the young runners as they push through the miles: you will be applauding for so much more.