Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet students participate in Students Run LA competitions. Photo courtesy of Brandon Castillo

After being encouraged by his 10th-grade physical education teacher, Alexander Rodriguez joined the Students Run LA (SRLA) team at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School. He was a bit hesitant at first, unsure if he would be able to run the LA Marathon, the culminating run for SRLA students. 

Now in his junior year, he prepares for Sunday’s LA Marathon encouraged by the community he has been able to build through the sport.

Junior and team member SRLA students at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet. Photo courtesy of Alexander Rodríguez

“Running itself has also brought many opportunities such as meeting new people,” said Rodriguez. “[I’m] trying other things that I would have not likely found interesting or very rewarding.”

After school, Rodriguez practices with SRLA. The trick for preparing for the marathon is increasing the miles a student runs. At first they run three miles and slowly progress as the academic year runs, in preparation for the grueling 26 miles of the marathon.

Rodriguez had a knee injury earlier in the year that affected his practice and the training, but that has not hindered his excitement. “ I do look forward to running the marathon,” he said. 

Students Run LA (SRLA) is a non-profit serving 185 schools across Greater Los Angeles, with 550 volunteer teachers and 3,250 students running through their communities. According to SRLA’s website, the organization “ challenges students to experience the benefits of goal-setting, character development, adult mentoring, and improved health by providing them with a truly life-changing experience.” 

Most SRLA students run LA’s yearly marathon. Through donations SRLA is able to cover the LA Marathon’s registration fees for its runners. Some of the money collected from Marathon fees is turned over to charitable organizations.

Junior and team member SRLA students at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet. Photo courtesy of Brandon Castillo

The SRLA team at Bravo high school is coached by Robert Russell. Since 1990, the English teacher has also coached the track and cross country team. He describes running as really tiring, but he also feels satisfaction in being able to help his student participate in SRLA training runs  and the LA Marathon.

Russell got involved in coaching at Bravo thanks to a recommendation from a fellow teacher who knew he had been a runner in his youth. It was his dream to coach a track and cross-country team. 

“It’s one of the things that I do that really makes me the most me,” said Russell. 

Experts say regular running or jogging offers many health benefits. Running can help build strong bones and as a weight-bearing exercise, it also strengthens muscles, improves cardiovascular fitness, and burns plenty of fat to maintain a healthy weight.

Regular physical activity such as running can also significantly improve mental health, self-confidence, healthy aging, and quality of life.

For Bravo student Brandon Castillo, running is a way to distress his mind and give him a lot of time to think. He believes that running and talking about running helps to build community.

“A healthy community gives you a healthy mindset,” he said, citing how people from Boyle Heights show up at the race with water and Gatorade to support team members. “I see it as a really supportive and helpful thing, as a community building exercise.”

Coach Russell says team members also build a special camaraderie among themselves. “They care about each other,” he said. “And it’s kind of fun when we go out and run through the community. It’s fun to be able to see all those Bravo uniforms out there running up Soto Street.”

Castillo said he’s looking forward to running at this Sunday’s LA Marathon. 

“There’s a great view [while] running 26 miles”, he said. “And yeah, it’ll be fun. I’m excited.”

Diego Hernandez is a junior at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School in Boyle Heights.

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