Originally published Sept. 28, 2017 in the Pantagraph.
MINIER — Every student at Olympia West Elementary School got their blood pumping Wednesday.
Each grade level took turns lining up outside the school in Minier to run the mile for physical education class. The biannual run has turned into a much-anticipated tradition for students and their families.
Rusty Richards of Minier joined the spectators to support his three elementary students.
At the bang from a starting gun, a line of second-graders bolted across the grass in a park near the school. The 1-mile route lead the group along a cornfield and around the perimeter of Minier Cemetery.
Danica Hemphill of Armington waited for her second-grade twins, Wesley and Colton, to complete the run.
“They’ve been very excited for this,” she said. “They practiced at home by running around the block. I’m glad it encourages them to get exercise and practice healthy lifestyles.”
PE teacher Peggy Braffet has led the event for 10 years. She begins preparing students for the run during the first week of school. The students run once in the fall and again in the spring.
Braffet said nearly 50 percent of the students who join athletics in Olympia’s junior high and high school programs are graduates of Olympia West and participants in the mile run event.
“They aren’t competing against each other, they’re competing against themselves to do a little better each time. It’s a big accomplishment for them to beat their previous times,” said Braffet.
Olympia West Principal Lisa Castleman said the event instills habits of training and exercising.
Soon, the first wave of runners came streaming around the final corner with red cheeks, arms and legs pumping hard. Spectators cheered as each student crossed the finish line where their final time was recorded.
Graham Walters, 8, was the third student to cross the line in just under 7½ minutes.
His mom, Mercedes Walters of Delavan, and grandparents Alice and Terry Ellis of Bloomington, congratulated Graham after the run.
“Health is a really important thing for him,” said Walters. “It’s awesome that so many parents came out to support their students.”
Tamra Schmidgall of Hopedale gave her granddaughter, Ava Jenkins, a proud squeeze after she caught her breath from finishing in 11th place.
“Even if you don’t think you got the best place, you still tried your best. I practiced for the run at home. Me and my sister did racing challenges outside,” said Ava, 7.
Schmidgall said she enjoyed seeing all the students “give it all they’ve got.”
“You can tell they all have this huge sense of accomplishment, no matter how they did,” said Schmidgall. “I want my granddaughters to finish today with a sense of, ‘I did this. I can run the mile. I did my best.’”