TaeShawn Jackson, left, and Darius McBride, right, charge toward the finish line during a practice run on the St. Francis de Sales High School track.
Sixth grader Christian Harton, 11, an enthusiastic runner who's eager for Toledo's Glass City Marathon on April 22, grins as he races by.
Brielle Rison pumped her arms furiously, shuffling her feet on the ground.
The track at St. Francis de Sales High School seemed daunting in the eyes of a 9-year-old, and besides, Brielle was tired and her stomach hurt.
The heat didn't help either.
The afternoon sun beat down, and Brielle wasn't wearing summer clothes. She still had on her school uniform, a blue-collared shirt and her long pants rolled up.
But trying to distract the fourth-grader from the ills of running was her workout buddy, teacher Pat McCarty, 29, of Toledo.
"Don't focus on running," said Mr. McCarty, a theology teacher at St. Ursula Academy, as he power-walked beside her last week. "What's your favorite subject?"
"Social studies," Brielle said back, huffing. "It's fun to get to know about people before us."
Brielle is among a group of young people training to run the final mile in next month's Glass City Marathon. The 16 students from Rosary Cathedral School are in grades 3-8 and are all involved in the after-school mentoring program, Kids Unlimited.
Every Thursday, the students train with the Kids Unlimited organizers. On this day, the high school track team from St. Francis was there too, cheering on the students as they crossed the finish line.
It's a chance for the children to test themselves, to see how far they can run.
"I went down the block and back, but I never ran a mile," Brielle said, reflecting on her running history.
The nimble Christian Harton could not hold back his excitement for his first bout of competition in Toledo's annual marathon on April 22.
"I can't wait to run it. I can't wait," said Young Harton, 11, a sixth grader. "I want to win. But it's a lot of other people, people trying their best and they're training."
The weekly running program is also an opportunity for organizers to teach the central-city youth about exercise, being healthy, and setting goals.
"Running is hard. It's not a whole lot of fun when you start," said St. Francis cross-country coach Jim Neary during a prerun pep talk. "How do you feel when you're done? Do you feel proud of yourself?"
Brielle Rison, 9, says she's never run a mile, but she's finishing her laps and getting encouraging words from mentors Pat McCarty, left, and Anthony Maraldo, right, as she crosses the finish line.
What helped the students, too, were their pumped-up kicks.
Using a $500 donation that covered half the expense, Kids Unlimited organizers took all 16 energetic students shoe shopping at one time, a task that might seem as difficult as running a mile.
Brielle, wearing her new gray running shoes with pink stripes, was one of the last finishers.
"Good! Good!" Mr. McCarty said, as he pushed her to complete the three laps, or three-fourths of a mile, around the track. "You get better every time!"
Some students cheered and threw their arms in the air triumphantly when they crossed the finish line. Brielle, feeling good about herself, was happy just to get some water.
"It's fantastic," Mr. McCarty said afterward. "The kids are so excited."
Contact Gabrielle Russon at: email@example.com or 419-724-6026.
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