Students at Nanaikapono Elementary will take on XTERRA Trail Run Worlds
Some of the smallest runners in the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship at Kualoa Ranch on November 24 will be making the biggest strides.
A group of students from Nanaikapono Elementary School will be participating in the event for the first time as part of an after-school program to create an active and healthy lifestyle. The 17 students are in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades at the school in Nanakuli, and range in age from 9 to 12.
Nanaikapono teachers Karen Finnerty and Kevin Eiker started assisting the PALS (Program for After-school Literacy Support) program this school year, and they decided to incorporate running into the curriculum.
"PALS provides out of school experiences for mainly Native Hawaiian kids on the Waianae Coast," Finnerty said. "We chose to focus on fitness. We wanted the kids to lead healthy lifestyles, but also to impact their whole community and lead by example."
Finnerty said the students have made tremendous progress in just a few months of training, both in their physical fitness and sense of teamwork.
"They have really come a long way in their running," Finnerty said. "Teamwork and support for each other has really changed, too. You'll see kids going back after they finish to help others finish and cheering each other along as they go."
As part of the reward for registering for the race, the students were treated to a surprise field trip a few weeks ago to buy running shoes. The PALS program, which is funded and supported by the Office of Equity, Excellence and Diversity at the University of Hawaii, provided the funds for the shoes.
The field trip doubled as a learning tool, as each student was given a $55 budget to purchase shoes.
"We talked about the type of shoes, and the guys at Sports Authority were so great with them, helping them try them on, find the right sizes, everything," Finnerty said. "They are super proud of their shoes and their running has changed drastically."
What's more, the shoes are treated like sports equipment. The students have to turn in the shoes after each practice, and they can be worn only during school hours or at practices. "We felt that it was really important that they all had the right shoes, but we didn't want them to feel like they were getting freebies, so they have to work for them," Finnerty said.
The XTERRA Trail Run World Championship features three courses - a 21-kilometer championship course, a 10K and a 5K - and more than 2,000 runners from around the world are expected to participate. The Nanaikapono students will run in the 5K, with dreams of increasing to longer distances in future years.
"They know they are doing something way beyond what anyone expects of them and way bigger than they even know," Finnerty said. "They also know they are going to represent not just themselves, but the PALS program, Nanaikapono and their whole Nanakuli community."
The Nanaikapono students are proof that the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship is open to runners of all ages and skill levels, and there is still time for anyone to enter. Online registration will remain open through November 20 at www.xterrakualoa.com.