October 26, 2021

Lace ‘em up!

Youth running club encourages fitness

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Most athletes dread hearing the phrase “take a lap” but at Newton’s Running Club summer camp, making a pass around the track at H.A. Lynn Stadium isn’t a punishment — it’s a warm-up. On Monday, more than 20 students met for the first practice of the summer, running a mile around the track at the stadium.

Now in its third year, the club is organized by Newton Community School District Board of Education member Robyn Friedman. An active runner who ran cross country at Wartburg College, Friedman said she hopes the club will help encourage participation on the district’s cross country teams.

“I love running,” Friedman said. “I’ve been running since middle school. I hope students will realize the benefits of distance running.”

Part of Friedman’s goal is to demystify distance running. Her hope is by the end of the summer camp students will have the confidence to take on longer runs, including participating in a 5K race. Building that confidence will help bolster participation on the district’s cross country teams, Friedman said.

“If we can get kids running earlier like they do with the swimming program, we can encourage them to participate and make it less intimidating,” Friedman said. “We want to make distance running fun.”

Friedman isn’t above bribing her budding athletes. Students in the program earn tokens for participating they can exchange for ice cream. The ice cream doesn’t hurt, but for fifth-grader Lauren Nook, the real draw is having a chance to run with her friends. Nook, who participated in the program last year, said she loved having a chance to run through Newton.

“It’s just fun that you get to run with other people,” Nook said.

While Friedman’s background is in cross country running, she’s shifted the program this year to include a track meet at the end of the summer, along with a cross country event where students will have a chance to run one or three miles in August.

She’s hoping the track meet will help draw in more competitive students. She’d like to see the program continue to grow. Running isn’t just cross country, Friedman said, it’s an important part of every sport.

“You have to run in every sport,” Friedman said.

As changes in the district’s physical education curriculum have eliminated the twice-yearly mile run for middle school students, Friedman wants to make sure students still have plenty of opportunities to exercise, even during the dog days of summer. Every Monday and Wednesday morning students will meet at the stadium, but Friedman said they’ll spend most of their time running in Maytag Park and across Newton.

For fourth-grader Olivia Ross, it’s a welcome respite from sitting at home.

“It gives you exercise,” Ross said. “I just like to run.”

As interest in the program continues to build, Friedman said she’s heard from cross country coaches across the district who said they’ve seen an increase in the number of students who interested in distance running. Special education teacher Chad Garvis, who coaches the middle school’s cross country team, said the students who’ve participated in the running club are more prepared when they sign up for cross country.

“I think at least a third of the kids who came out for cross country this year participated in the running club,” Garvis said. “It gets them more comfortable with running.”

As a coach, Garvis said one of the biggest obstacles for students to overcome is the mental hurdle, they have to believe they’re able to run long distances. The summer running club has helped students gain that confidence, Garvis said.

“It makes them more comfortable, they realize ‘I can do that’ after they’ve run two miles,” Garvis said.

Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or ddolmage@newtondailynews.com