West Side Running Club fosters camaraderie, healthy lifestyle

While many school programs work tirelessly to convince children they will not suffer pain if they eat a piece of broccoli or if they walk to their friend’s house instead of riding a car there, students at West Side Elementary are voluntarily walking about half a mile to a full mile every Tuesday and Thursday after school, with no reward other than each other’s company.

Principal John Wright said he started the running club years ago without any competitive goals.

“You constantly have older people say kids do not go outside anymore,” Wright said. “If you stick them outside, they naturally run.”

Wright said he wanted to create a club that would encourage this natural instinct and make it fun for the students who participated. Competing in regional and state-level competitions is an added bonus for those who feel the drive to do so.

“I want it to be a lifestyle,” he said.

Out of the 30 to 40 students who participate in the club right now, several students placed in the state level competition a few weeks ago, including fourth-grader Vella Nave, who placed 22nd in the state competition out of hundreds of students, qualifying for the national competition.

“I just like running,” fourth-grader David Wright said. “I like that I can get really good at it.”

Fourth-grader Colin Miller said those watching them run are encouraging and supportive as they run, even when the run becomes challenging.

“You are pushing it at the end to keep running,” Miller said. “If there is no encouragement, it is slower.”

Wright said this level of community support is crucial to the club’s success.

“The parents love this thing,” he said. “The goal is just do your best and have fun.”

He said in many cases, the club is an outlet for children who may desperately need it.

A crucial detail is, no matter how much the students want to invest into each run, Wright said he makes sure everyone finishes, no matter what.

“The goal is to have fun,” fourth-grader Cooper Cole said.

On top of the fun, Wright said he keeps track of his students’ personal best times, and encourages each of them to work towards beating that time as often as possible.

He said clubs such as this are growing in popularity in recent years.

“This is growing in elementary schools,” he said. “It used to be all informal ‘road races.’”

Now, as the club has grown, Wright said he is looking to possibly foster similar clubs in East Side and Harold McCormick, so the three schools can run together some times.

In the end, Wright said he runs because it is fun.

“I do it to get off the couch,” he said. “The parents are right there with me.”

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