Originally published July 25 in the Corpus Christi Caller Times.
By Vicky Camarillo
About 15 kids lined up along the bottom of a hill near Cole Park on Ocean Drive Thursday morning, bracing themselves to sprint upward.
Laura Brennan, a volleyball and track coach at Baker Middle School, instructed them to bear crawl halfway up the hill and run the rest of the way. “It’s good — it’s a challenge!” she told the group.
At her cue, they scrambled up the hill, the sounds of their pounding feet almost obscured by the crashing waves of the Corpus Christi Bay.
The kids, some in middle school and others in high school, are part of a summer running club that meets three or four times a week. Brennan leads the group in exercises such as plank jacks and 2- to 3-mile runs broken into intervals.
Brennan’s club is an offshoot of the Marathon Kids program, a national program that Richard Torres, health and physical education specialist for the Corpus Christi Independent School District, brought to the district five years ago. He said that after Corpus Christi gained a reputation as one of the unhealthiest cities in America — Men’s Health magazine once ranked it the country’s “fattest” city — he wanted to create a district-wide initiative to turn the trend around with the city’s youngest residents.
Every campus in the district has a Marathon Kids running club, Torres said. During the school year, any student can join their school’s club — some campuses have academic or other requirements — in which they work toward a goal of running 104.8 miles in increments. Each time students log 26.2 miles, they get a reward, such as a T-shirt or shoelaces, from Nike, which partners with Marathon Kids.
Brennan decided to offer a club to keep kids active in the summer without having to pay to join a private group. Because her club is independent of Marathon Kids, there are no Nike-sponsored incentives — just the granola bars and fruit snacks that Brennan buys for every practice. Now in its second year, the club is open to students from any school, and Brennan said she encourages them to invite their parents and friends.
“We just come out and we run,” Brennan said. “I do give them different workouts and I teach them a few techniques, but they don’t have to be an expert or have any level of capabilities to be out here with us.”
“It is tiring,” Matthew Medina, a Baker Middle School sixth-grader, said during a break. “But it’s also really fun.”
The club usually meets around 8 a.m., but Brennan moved Thursday’s session to 7 a.m. to avoid the heat. Medina didn’t mind spending his summer mornings exercising because, he said, “I’m usually bored in the summer.”
Leezett Alcantara, a Ray High School sophomore, and Gabryela Perez, a Carroll High School freshman, joined the summer club with a more concrete goal: to train for upcoming volleyball tryouts.
The workouts were challenging, Alcantara said, but Brennan’s coaching was effective. Running uphill was making the group’s legs stronger. This week, Alcantara said, “it looks like everybody’s really getting better.”
Brennan said she hopes the club helps instill in kids a long-term passion for fitness.
“Team sports are sports that they’re probably not going to do once they graduate high school,” she said. “So if they’re here, they’re learning little techniques and how to push themselves so that they can do it lifelong. And I think they are learning it without knowing it.”