PUBLISHED: 5:36 PM on Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Morning run energizes students
Mendenhall River Community School

Photo by Amy Steffian
  Marathon Club members Zachary Gianotti and Alexander Iliev.
On most mornings fifth grader Zachary Gianotti is thinking about breakfast at 7:30 am. But in recent weeks he's been up early, beating even teachers to school to join a group of 15 Mendenhall River students for some early morning exercise. Gianotti is a member of the Marathon Club, a before-school fitness group led by Physical Education Teacher Carol Fujioka. For a month, students run laps around the school gym, adding the distance till they reach 26 miles - the length of an official marathon.

It takes 22 laps around the gym to make one mile. Orange traffic cones mark the course, keeping the runners on track while Fujioka charts their progress with help from parent volunteer Anisa Jackson. Each participant has 30 minutes to complete up to a two-mile run. Most students run a mile, and everyone moves at their own pace. Some walk, some jog, others sprint, bolstered by upbeat music from Fujioka's tape player.

A breathless student rounds the corner of the gym. "How many is that?" he said. "Eleven," Fujioka said. "You're half way there."

Now in its fifth year, the Marathon club has grown increasingly popular. Fujioka used to hold it once a year, but added a second club this spring when student interest climbed. The club is open to third, fourth, and fifth graders, but it also attracts a few parents and siblings who enjoy exercising in the dry gym.

What encourages students to trade in sleep for Fujioka's track? Alexander Iliev, also a fifth grader, participates for the love of the sport. "I enjoy running," he said. "I have that talent. Plus, I always feel awake in the afternoon."

"It's fun," Gianotti said.

Both Iliev and Gianotti believe that the Marathon Club gives them energy and helps them to do better in school. Other motivation comes from club sponsors, parents and friends whose contributions provide for t-shirts and an end of the month Subway party.

Fujioka sees additional benefits. With nearly 400 students at Mendenhall River School, and stricter regulations for classroom instruction, there is less space and time for physical education. The Marathon Club provides students with additional exercise opportunities and it teaches healthy habits.

Fujioka notes that students who participate in the club do better on the Presidents Fitness Challenge, a test she administers to intermediate students each spring.

According to Gianotti, there is only one drawback to the club. "I have to go to bed earlier," he said.