One day each week, some Antietam Elementary students gather together to race towards fitness.
The Antietam Elementary Mustangs have been running for five years.
According to club coordinator Elise Chipman, 116 kids joined the running club this spring and trained for eight weeks in preparation to run the May Day 5K sponsored by the Lake Ridge RidgeRunners.
The Mustangs had 33 club members participate in the race that day, winning the awards for both the fastest and the fittest school. Four club members were in the top six runners for the under 12 age category, with second grader Griffin Brock coming in first overall.
Earlier in the season, nine Antietam runners competed in the Student Ambassador Mile Fun Run and won the Fittest School Award there. Chipman said she promoted a variety of races to the kids to encourage participation in running activities outside of club practices.
The children are encouraged to track physical activity outside of school and earn tokens for anything from walking the dog to practicing soccer.
"The tokens created a healthy sense of competition, as the highest earners each week received recognition and rewards," Chipman said.
At the final meeting of the year recognition was also given to the most improved male and female runners in each grade.
"I am sad to see running club end," said winner Emily Hartshorn. "I reached my goal for this year, and I intend to keep running for basketball, so I can be stronger and healthier."
Antietam's running club is a PTA program open to all Antietam students. Participation costs are kept low, making it an accessible activity for many families. The club is run entirely by parent volunteers who come out to run with the kids, encourage them and hand them rubber bands each time they completed a lap around the field. Volunteers from Woodbridge High School's running program, also assist at practices.
Parent Jill Wheeler volunteered with the second graders, and said, "My goal was to see the children increase their love of exercise."
"The parent volunteers were fantastic," Chipman said. "If it weren't for my team leaders there is no way that the children would be able to benefit from 'learning' how to run when you have a club over 100 students."
Chipman explained that the practices emphasized running basics like stretching techniques, running form, and the differences one feels between a sprint, a jog, a run and a walk. As the weeks progressed, they worked on goal setting, endurance, and lengthening the distance of the laps. The end result was a mile fun run the last day of the club which each student completed.
"I love the fact that running takes no equipment, just desire, and it can be done anywhere," she said. "I came from a running club school out in San Diego and fell in love with teaching kids how to run. The joy I see in a child who started out not wanting to run and by the end is pushing themselves to get in just one more extra lap is my motivation as a coach."
According to PTA president Veronica Price, she and Chipman are already planning to expand the club next year to involve more students and truly become the fittest school in the Lake Ridge area.