Lieck Elementary School Students Run as a Team
By Catherine Morris
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According to Sarah Zdeb, Marathon Kids has a simple but powerful influence on her school and community: “It has gathered a community of runners.”
As a Physical Education teacher at Lieck Elementary School in San Antonio, Zdeb says, “my passion is inspiring healthy lifestyles for all. Marathon Kids is a great support for this goal. I enjoy watching the students become stronger both mentally and physically over the seasons.”
That has taken on special importance in recent months. When her students returned to school after remote learning due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Zdeb noticed a marked decrease in their daily movement and overall fitness. Pushing to reverse this trend, she says, has been her biggest challenge this school year.
“Families were more sedentary than usual during the pandemic,” Zdeb says. Along with regular PE class, “the typical daily movements such as moving through the school, walking to and from school, and playing at the park were limited through Covid.”
Fortunately, the students are now back in class, rebuilding their fitness and endurance. “I have worked with our students each and every day in PE to push through this difficult time,” Zdeb says. “We have come a long way this school year, but the challenge of exercising post-pandemic is real.”
Working Together to Build a Daily Physical Activity Habit
Coach Zdeb has always believed in the importance of regular physical activity. “Moving your body challenges you to be better! The ‘better’ might be physical, mental, more range of motion, more activities with your family, or a more enjoyable life overall. Physical activity can change your mood, your mind and your body. When you learn to love movement, life just gets better.”
Zdeb describes Lieck Elementary as a diverse school with a large military presence. As a campus, she says, everyone at Lieck strives together “to teach and foster healthy choices for our whole community. We offer many before- and after-school programs that enhance the learning of our students, and we invite most of our student population ranging from second through fifth grades to participate in Marathon Kids.”
The run club includes students of all abilities. Currently, there are 38 active participants who have run well over 1,700 miles together—more than 66 cumulative marathons. Though each runner is working toward his or her own mileage goals, they are doing it together. This is part of the magic of Marathon Kids: Zdeb has found that many students are drawn to it “because they enjoy the team feel of it.”
Coach Zdeb has found that many students are drawn to Marathon Kids “because they enjoy the team feel of it.”
Running Together Is its Own Motivation
Zdeb’s students use the bus loop at Lieck for their daily runs. “In PE, we run for three to seven minutes,” she says, “and in Marathon Kids, we run for 30 minutes.” The runners typically cover between one and three miles at a time.
The students have individualized ID cards, which they scan to log their mileage automatically through Marathon Kids Connect—a free, cloud-based physical activity platform with apps available for smart phones and tablets. Zdeb and the students’ parents are also able to use the platform to manually input students’ active minutes and mileage covered at home.
Though her students are still catching up to their pre-pandemic fitness levels and rebuilding healthy habits, says Coach Zdeb, running motivation is never an issue for them. ”The team camaraderie pulls everyone up! Keeping the run time short and manageable helps, too.”
The Marathon Kids program emphasizes setting goals and working toward them at your own pace. Zdeb believes these are also motivating elements for kids who are actively building a foundation for a lifetime of physical fitness.
“It’s a true motivation for students when they track the small steps that add up to thousands of miles,” she says. She makes a point of running with her students and regularly discussing the importance of physical activity with them, so they can take charge of their own good health.
Running Improves Mental Health
Coach Zdeb credits her school’s Marathon Kids run club with gathering together a community of runners, and she believes everyone involved in the club has seen a variety of benefits. She recalls in particular one quiet fourth-grader who never showed strong interest in any of Lieck’s after-school clubs until Marathon Kids.
“He now is an avid runner,” she says, “and has inspired his family to join area 5Ks. He loves the camaraderie of running. His parents have told me that Marathon Kids made him come out of his shell.”
The student, whose name is Dominic, has steadily improved his run times. He can now complete a 5K in an average of just 26 minutes. Coach Zdeb shared part of an email she received from Dominic’s parents:
“Thank you for giving us the opportunity to share a bit of our HUGE appreciation to you and to Marathon Kids! Prior to joining Marathon Kids, Dominic had little interest in sports. I tried to introduce him to soccer; however, he completed one season and did not want to continue. So I was surprised when one day after school he brought to me the flyer for Marathon Kids and was adamant about signing up!
“He has taken to running with such desire and motivation to keep improving. He ran his first 5K with us in 2020 and has completed two more since then. He has amazed us with his time improvement.
“He has also become so confident in participating in activities. He has joined Student Council and Patrols. I asked him what’s in his head while he runs, and he replied, ‘It’s just quiet.’ I think that is his Zen. I love that he has that! We look forward to seeing his continued progress in Marathon Kids and future organized runs!”
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