Teacher builds junior high club through passion for running
By Kjerstin Korzan
I love to run. Not for the health benefits, or because when I’m 60 my heart and lungs will thank me. I mean I love to run. I love the wind on my face. I love the rhythm that my feet make on the pavement. I love the way I can hear my heart beat. I love running in the rain, and in the snow. I love the solitude; I love the stillness. I just love to run.
I also love to teach. I love watching my students at Sir Wilfrid Laurier School in Calgary grow into intelligent young people who view their world with hope and the people around them with empathy.
Four years ago, I wanted to teach my love of running to my students. I wanted my students to be given a chance to participate in something at school, no matter their abilities, cultures, or economic realities. They might get cut from the basketball team, they might not be able to afford to play hockey or soccer. They might have responsibilities to family, or faith. But running was something any of my students could be a part of.
I don’t know how many students I expected at that first meeting, but I expected more than two. Imagine a gym with three teachers (Jamie Willis, Shannon James, and myself) and two students.
You could hear the crickets chirping as we handed out permission forms.
I hadn’t understood that running is a hard concept for most teenagers to buy into. It’s not that they don’t like running, it’s that they like to do it for short distances and with great bursts of speed. Running simply for the sake of running? What’s the point?
The next spring we were at it again. Jamie, Shannon, and I making the announcements, convincing the kids who wanted to play on school teams to come and run if only to get them into shape, and our little band of runners grew to about eight; students of all ages and abilities, some fast, some not so fast, learning how to run, some of them even learning to enjoy it. They started taking pride in their growing abilities.
“I joined the running club because I was new to the school, and I thought it might be a good way to meet people,” says Juan, a Grade 6 student. “I also wanted to become more fit. Running club has helped me when I play my other sports (like basketball), and I’m constantly surprising myself with how far I can run now!”
Last year we grew to about 10 dedicated runners. We were elated. We even had another teacher, Michaela Mistal, join us. Our running club became a source of pride. The students saw themselves as tough, physically and mentally. They knew they could push their bodies harder and longer than other students. They could run farther and faster than they thought possible. It became clear our club members were beginning to see themselves as real runners. During track and field tryouts, one of our Grade 9 club members said he wouldn’t be trying out for any of the sprint races. When I asked why he looked at me confidently and said, “Ms. Korzan, I’m a long-distance runner; why would I waste my energy sprinting?”
I almost cried right there.
Running club now trains all year. We knew if we wanted our students to grasp the beauty of running we had to make it a bigger part of their lives than just a couple of months.
Jamie, Shannon, Michaela and I stood in the gym in September, waiting for students to arrive for our first meeting. I was a little more realistic, and yet I was thrilled with the growth we’d experienced over the last couple of years. If even one more student decided to give the club a try, or one more saw himself as a runner, we were a success. Sixty forms later, we realized we needed to make more copies.
Our little band of 10 runners had exploded into 32 by the time we got going. Even during winter there were 16 to 18 who continued to run faithfully. When it was too cold to go outside, we would circuit train in the gym. When the gym was occupied, we ran stairs, and did circuits in the hallways. Every Monday and Wednesday afternoon Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s running club meets.
We have students from grades 5 to 9 participating. Duressa and Juan, two of our youngest runners, are starting to push Jeff and Ace, two of our oldest.
“I joined running club last year in Grade 5 because I wanted to get stronger and faster,” says Duressa. “I think of myself as a runner now, and my goal is to go to the Olympics for
running . . .any kind of running.”
They’re not intimidated by anything. Samir, Ibrahim, Tiffany, Gaella, Summar, Liam, Tristan, Jamil, and Osama are all becoming mentally and physically tough.
Next year we might have to have two running clubs going: one for more elite runners who deserve to be pushed to the best of their abilities and one for beginners.
“I joined running club mainly to get fit. I’ve gained more stamina and I’ve made new friends,” says Jeff, a Grade 9 student. “I’m proud of myself for how much I’ve improved and how far I can go now, without having to walk!”
Running for the sake of running is no longer a foreign concept to my students. I inevitably have a student run up to me in the hallway and ask, “Ms. Korzan, is there running club today?”
Our goal is to enter our club into a race this spring. You might see us, wearing bright blue T-shirts with SWL and a lightning bolt over the front – running for the love of it.
Kjerstin Korzan is a Phys. Ed. teacher at Sir Wilfrid Laurier School in Calgary.
Mar/Apr 2011 Issue