CHADDS FORD – Students were packing into the Hillendale Elementary cafeteria in the early morning hours before school started. They chatted with one another as they stretched and warmed up before following teachers and parents outside into the chilled March air. They split into groups with a “coach,” who was really just a teacher or parent volunteer, and set off running around the perimeter of the school and didn’t stop for 30 minutes.
It was all part of a little running club started by teachers at the school to train for a 5K.
“My friends and I were at a meeting and Joanna Johnson was speaking about her sons and the first [Run For Our Sons] and we kind of got hooked right then and decided to start a program to try and get some kids out to the race,” said Michele O’Kane, a fourth grade teacher at Hillendale.
Johnson, whose two sons Elliott and Henry have Duchenne muscular dystrophy, started the Run For Our Sons as a way to fundraise to benefit Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy.
Since the Johnsons were a local family and the 5k run takes place at Patton Middle School, it seemed only natural to have the Hillendale Elementary community want to take part.
What started off three years ago as a preparation for the run has turned into a tradition that many of the children want to participate in and the numbers have grown every year.
“Our first year we had about 25 [students],” O’Kane said. “Our second year we had about 50 and this year we had over 70 kids and about a dozen teachers commit to come to practice twice a week.”
Those numbers represent just the fourth and fifth graders, since they are the only grades currently allowed to partake, and doesn’t include all those who are signed up for the run itself.
“The last time I checked, we had 96 people on our team,” O’Kane said. “I’m guessing we’ll have over 100 before the race starts, which is exciting.”
Having these training sessions every Wednesday and Friday at 8 a.m. help the students to learn how to properly prepare for a longer race, such as a 5K.
“For some kids, this is their first 5K and it’s a great learning experience,” O’Kane said. “A lot of kids, when you’re 10-years-old, think you can sprint and hold that sprint for 30 minutes. You just have to learn the hard way sometimes, so we try to work them through learning how to pace yourself, which is important for distance running.”
The students, teachers and parents started the weekly runs this year in early February and have battled through the uncooperative winter weather by sometimes taking the run indoors, but no matter what, the 30-minutes usually equates to a mile and a half to two miles.
What makes it all the more better is the amount of fun the students are having while doing this.
“The kids are happy,” O’Kane said. “It’s one of their most favorite things to do. It’s wonderful to hear them say, ‘That was so much fun. I love running around the school and I love running with the teachers.’ It really is a wonderful thing.”
And to top it off, it’s something parents can be happy with as it’s helping to keep their children not only stay active, but also help students pay attention more once school starts.
“[Parents] love having the kids get to exercise before school,” O’Kane said. “Exercising in the morning is a great way to start the day. The kids are very alert and attentive after running and exercising before the actual school day begins.”