Waiting for the horn to sound with new running shoes on their feet and numbers on their shirts, a group of about 25 kids were ready to run what was for most their first 5k road race. Some were laughing and smiling, while others had a look of serious determination as they set off to complete the 3.1 miles.
Foundation Communities held its 5th Annual Fitness Camino Saturday morning at its Sierra Vista Apartments. The Running Buddies Fitness Camino 5K was started in 2013 as a way to encourage participation in fitness activities and promote overall well-being. Through the Running Buddies program children in third through fifth grades trained for six-weeks with coaches and mentors who supported their fitness goals.
For the last two years, David Chandler, a running coach with 17 years of experience mostly at the college level, has coached Running Buddies.
“This is the grassroots,” he said. “The real beginning – a key point in their lives and some of these kids really need a chance to be part of something.”
Lucero Gomez has participated in the Running Buddies program for two years. A 10-year-old who is in the 4th grade at St. Elmo Elementary School, Lucero said she has enjoyed training for the race.
“What I like about training is it can help me run faster than I used to,” she said. “The race is important because I get to see my progress over the weeks.”
Through a grant from The Amerigroup Foundation, healthy food and snacks are incorporated into the Running Buddies program, which helps the children learn to make more nutritious choices.
The program has helped Lucero feel healthier and when she’s participating in running buddies, she eats healthier, goes to bed earlier and drinks more water, he mother Marta Gomez said. Her mother has seen a positive change in her since she started Running Buddies this year and she even appears to be leaner.
“At Foundation Communities, we are aware of the lifelong health impacts resulting from childhood obesity, and are working tirelessly to implement rigorous programming aimed at combating obesity as well as chronic disease throughout our communities,” said Aaron DeLaO, Foundation Communities Director of Health Initiatives. Since its inception, the Running Buddies/Fitness Camino 5K has been an impactful addition to Foundation Communities’ fitness and nutrition programming. With continued support we look forward to bringing Running Buddies and 5k races to even more properties and continuing to expand fitness opportunities for all of our residents and their families.”
Children who participate receive free training shoes, water bottles, and a T-shirt. The road race replicates an adult 5k and the children wear numbered bibs and they receive a medal at the finish line. Robert Graves, 12, was the first to cross the finish in a time of 27:27. And, it was also his birthday.
Lucero’s parents were surprised when she said she wanted to participate in Running Buddies, her mother said. She is extremely proud of her daughter and said she excels at everything she does, even encouraging the family to try new activities.
“It’s like she found a calling for herself,” she said. “I thought it would just be a race, but it became therapeutic for Lucero. She has a love of running now, it’s not just a hobby.”
The whole family is physically active, but Lucero is the only runner. She is inspiring her three younger siblings, Estrella, 8, Abrahan, 6 and Eden, 4.
“Her sister Estrella is upset she can’t do running buddies yet, because she knows she can do it,” Marta Gomez said. Next year her little sister will be old enough to participate.
Lucero received the Running Buddies Leadership Role Model Award this year because she is so inspiring to others, said Cynthia Gonzalez, the Learning Center Coordinator at Sierra Vista.