For nearly 100 students, pounding the pavement provides payoff in goal-setting and endurance.
There are few athletic pursuits that require as little: just a pair of sneakers, a bottle of water and the get-up-and-go to pound the pavement.
But for the nearly 100 students in Rymfire Elementary School's running club, the payoff is pretty big: self-discipline, endurance and the feeling of accomplishment that comes with setting goals and achieving them.
When Robert Cerasi came to the district 11 years ago as a physical education teacher, he brought with him the love of running he developed in high school and we wanted to pass that love down to his students.
"When I grew up, I had nothing like this, so to give them a chance to be part of a 'team' -- maybe it's not a 'ball' sport like basketball or baseball -- is a great opportunity," Cesari said as he oversaw a recent practice of the running club.
Students in grades 4 through 6 voluntarily sign up for the eight-week program each semester. They meet and run for about a half hour after school twice a week, with the program culminating in a 5K mini marathon, students looping around the bus pickup route and a nearby bike/walk route on the campus as parents and other supporters cheer them on. This spring's event will be April 8 at 8:30 a.m.
Rymfire sixth-grader Devynne Martz said her goal for the marathon will be to make it all the way without stopping once. Martz is not alone in her determination.
"I think this club is for people who are not quitters," said fellow sixth-grader Melissa Braflat, adding that it was Martz's lead that encouraged her to join the running club.
Braflat said that when she first joined the group, she tended to get winded, tired and cramp up as she ran.
"And now I can run a whole mile without cramping," Braflat added.
These are the kinds of accomplishments Cerasi takes pride in.
"It's great to see these kids progress every week -- to see where they start and eight weeks later where they end up, and also to see them take ownership in that," Cerasi said.
Coach Cerasi has seen students like a fourth-grader this year who struggled in school to gain more self-confidence and focus because of his after-school running. He's also seen older students -- some of whom return from middle or high school to still run with the younger kids -- go on to excel in scholastic cross-country and track competitions.
Either way, Cerasi feels good knowing he's setting kids on a track to exercise and healthy living, which can hopefully become life-long habits. Unlike other sports which require specific uniforms and equipment, Cerasi said, running is also a low overhead way to stay fit and, and in this case, be part of a "team."
With district-supplied iPads, students log their own running times on apps and can mark their progress. But the only competition students are in is with themselves, with kids working toward individual medals of achievement. At the end of the 5K marathon, participants who complete the trek are given free passes to nearby Marineland.
For a kid like Andrew Baumert, an eighth-grader at Indian Trails Middle School who was a part of Rymfire's running club for two years, seeing his own endurance improve is reward enough.
"Before I was in [the club] it was hard for me to run without catching my breath," Baumert said. "So it's really helped me a lot, especially now that I'm on a tournament soccer team."