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Coach Isaac Zertuche Keeps the Yarbrough Tigers Moving Safely with Marathon Kids

By Catherine Morris

Isaac Zertuche is a PE teacher and Marathon Kids coach at Yarbrough Elementary School in Midland, Texas. His school’s Marathon Kids program, which is underwritten by H-E-B, consists of 780 students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Zertuche describes his students as “very excited about health and fitness. We have a very diverse community from different working backgrounds such as the oil field, teaching, manufacturing, healthcare, finance, retail, and construction. Some of the kids’ extracurricular activities after school include playing at the park, riding their bikes with their friends and family, and walking and jogging with their parents after school.”

Zertuche, whose students call him Coach Z, first learned about Marathon Kids at a Midland ISD professional development meeting; as soon as he looked into the program, he knew he wanted to become a Marathon Kids coach. “Yarbrough was one of the first schools to try it out,” he says, “and we’ve loved it ever since.”

He says Marathon Kids was “a perfect partnership for the goals we had in PE for our students. Our students love to get active and to run. Our warmup in the gym consists of running laps inside and outside of the gym. For the primary grades—kindergarten through second—we would have them do locomotive skills such as hopping, skipping, galloping and side-shuffling. Our goal was to get the students moving from the time they enter the gym till the time they leave.” Marathon Kids programming supported that goal.

Motivation Is Easy with Marathon Kids

“Marathon Kids allowed us to run several marathons as an entire school,” Coach Z says. “The kids loved it! We would pretend and use our imagination as if we were traveling to several places with each marathon we completed.”

Every Yarbrough student participates in Marathon Kids. “Our students come to PE and participate in Marathon Kids four times a week,” says Coach Z, “whether it’s moving around and being active for 20-plus minutes or running laps.” The school has an outdoor, quarter-mile track where students run. “We allow the students to run their laps at their own pace and have fun doing it. Some students will complete four to six laps; other students will run 25 to 30 laps in a PE class.”

Coach Z and the other teachers and coaches keep track of the students’ mileage with Marathon Kids Connect, the program’s digital lap-tracking app and reporting platform. “Each student has a card in a plastic card slot on a lanyard. We print each ID card by grade level, and each teacher has their own color. Each time the student runs by, we scan their ID card. If we are unable to go outside and run laps, we will manually input laps the student runs inside.”

Once the students have run their laps, they’re allowed free play time. “Our students love this,” says Coach Z, “so they push themselves. We also remind the students of the amazing health benefits of running and being active daily, and that each lap is making them healthier and stronger.”

Marathon Kids Helps with Safe Distance Running

Coach Z says Marathon Kids has been “extremely beneficial” since the pandemic changed the structure of Yarbrough’s PE program. “In order to reduce the number of students in the gym and to help with social distancing, we have added Marathon Kids to our PE program since day one of the pandemic. One coach will keep two classes inside, while the other coach takes the other two classes to run laps outside. This has helped so much with social distance. We also have kids participating that are doing online learning for the year. Each day, those online students do a workout video or a walk or jog with their parents, and they add that to their lap total from home.”

The biggest challenge Coach Z and the other PE teachers are facing this year is making sure all students stay as socially distanced as possible and keep their masks on in the gym. “It gets hot and hard to breathe at times when exercising,” he says, “so I can definitely understand how they feel. We are just constantly reminding the students to keep your personal space and wear your mask correctly at all times.”

The Benefits of Daily Physical Activity

Coach Z has noticed that his students are more focused and have less behavior issues since introducing Marathon Kids programming. “The students go back to class tired,” he says, “so they are more relaxed in class and can focus better. I’ve also noticed how, as the year goes on, the students’ cardio endurance has improved. Our students are able to run longer and do more laps.”

He wants to make sure his students know the importance of their health at a young age. “Physical activity is very important because it can reduce the risk of several diseases and sickness in the future. Physical activity can improve the quality of your life. I strongly believe in the quote, ‘If you do not make time for your wellness, you will be forced to make time for your illness.’”

“Marathon Kids is an amazing program, especially for the pandemic. It is especially perfect for schools with big class sizes. It allows the students to run outside, stay fit and stay healthy while staying socially distanced.”

 Give to coaches by giving to Marathon Kids.

Your donation not only supports Marathon Kids programming but it’s how we ultimately give back to our coaches. Together, we can provide coaches with free, first-class technology and tools that enhance kids’ experience on the track, field, and gym. We also give coaches access to professional development, social and emotional learning resources, and on-demand support.

Your dollars support the future of Marathon Kids and keep our programming free and accessible to all coaches and kids. Now, more than ever, kids need the mental health benefits of regular walking and running. So help us invest in the health and wellness of kids in all of our communities by honoring our coaches!