Runners for Students Run Los Angeles gather for an early morning departure for the Los Angeles Marathon 2012./ Photo by Jonathan Olivares
Salvador Robledo, left, and Daniel Peña run the LA Marathon as members of Students Run LA.

Day in and day out from October to March, Angelica Gil, a student at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School, trains for a special day that comes around once a year.

After school and on weekends, she pours everything she’s got into preparing to run in the Los Angeles Marathon. She runs sprints and takes long runs, sweat dripping down her face. She doesn’t let the aches and pains get to her. “Running has always been so much fun,” she says. “The marathon was a challenge that I could prove I could conquer.”

Gil participates in Students Run LA (SRLA), a program that aims to inspire youth to achieve their dreams through the experience of the LA Marathon. The experience doesn’t begin at the starting line; it begins on the first day of training. Running a marathon ”“ 26.2 miles ”“ is no simple task. Week in and week out, the training is exhausting.

Read youth reporter Jennifer Lam’s first-person story in: One Marathoner’s Experience

Harry Shabazia, a teacher from Boyle Heights Continuation High School, founded SRLA in 1989. After running in the first LA Marathon in 1986, he challenged a few students to train with him for another marathon. “Feeling the amazing level of accomplishment after crossing the finish line, I knew this was something that would change the lives of my students,” he says.

Students who participate in SRLA take part in a six-month training program in preparation for Marathon Day in March (March 17 next year). The actual training program changes from year-to-year. Last year, it kicked off with a 5k run, which was then followed by two 10k runs. After that, there were two half marathons and then an 18-mile run at Hansen Dam.

Shabazia believes the program has a big impact on participants, providing “an increase in levels of confidence, and an awareness and often a gain in sense of direction for life.” Over the years, more than 48,000 youth have participated.

Ana Chavez never thought she would be able to finish a marathon. She got involved after hearing about the experience from her peers at Francisco Bravo. Although she has never been the athletic type, Chavez says she wanted a challenge. Even after completing the 26.2 miles, she said she “couldn’t believe that I finished running from Dodger Stadium to Santa Monica until I got home and watched it on television.” Despite the difficult training and some injuries, she says she “wanted to complete her goal.”

Eduardo Hernandez, a recent Bravo graduate, describes running the marathon as “surreal” and says “the marathon reminded me to set goals.” Establishing benchmarks and being dedicated enabled him to reach those goals.

Indira Kissoondyal, another recent Bravo graduate who will be going to Princeton this fall, says her SRLA experience gave her the self assurance she needed to set sky-high goals. “SRLA has helped me gain better time management skills,” she says. “It was impossible to write an essay, do 30 calculus problems, and run 18 miles all in the same day.”

She now believes she can accomplish anything.

Gerardo Lerena, a Theodore Roosevelt High School graduate who is also going to Princeton this fall, has run two marathons with Students Run LA. He recalls the impact of finishing a marathon. “I had to work for my goal for months, and my journey wasn’t easy,” he says. But “all that training made me appreciate the finish line so much more. If I can complete a marathon, I can do almost anything.”

Runners for Students Run Los Angeles gather for an early morning departure for the Los Angeles Marathon 2012./ Photo by Jonathan Olivares

Madeline Salazar graduated from Theodore Roosevelt High School in 2009 and now attends the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology (MIT). She participated in SRLA for five years and then volunteered for one year after high school graduation. Salazar takes pride in having completed seven marathons. She says the running club helped her stay fit and motivated. “Running really balanced my life,” she says. “It created a schedule so everything in my life was structured around running and school.” That discipline, she says, helped her succeed in school.

Twenty-three years after it began, SRLA has grown to include 450 teachers and roughly 3,000 students each year from 165 different schools and community programs throughout Los Angeles.

As the running club grows larger every year, SRLA has found it more difficult to fund the program. Every year, the non-profit looks for sponsors and donations to meet the cost of the program, including entry fees for runs, shoes and race jackets.

Students who participate get a free pair of shoes after each half marathon. Those who finish the marathon receive race jackets. For the past two years, Nike has donated the shoes and the jackets.

A new aspect of the program is SRLA Cares, where participants get the chance to give back. The group is also giving $500 scholarships to students who participated in SRLA during their senior year.

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