DOBSON — Fourth-grader Jackie Trejo shared a simple trick she uses to keep putting one foot in front of the other when running.
“I pretend there’s a cookie in front of me,” said Trejo, who placed first in the 14-and-under age group in the Cintas 5K held in Dobson, which was only her second race.
Trejo learned about self-motivation through participation in “Grow Strong,” the Rockford Elementary School running club.
Things were different for Trejo before she joined.
When running with her mom, “I was always right behind her,” Trejo recalled. “When she looked back I would run, and when she turned back around, I would walk again.”
The club was established at Rockford in August 2015.
Deanne Fitzgerald, PE teacher at Rockford, a runner since high school and a former Surry Central coach, had wanted to start a running club.
At the same time, Surry County Schools Superintendent Travis Reeves showed an interest in seeing running clubs started at the schools.
Rockford was chosen to pilot the program.
“The hope is next year to be in all our elementary schools because it has gone so well,” said Fitzgerald, whose son, Tyler Fitzgerald, a Surry Central track athlete, co-coaches the club.
Third through fifth-grade students are eligible to join club “Grow Strong” and train for a different competitive running event each season, meeting twice a week for 10 weeks.
In the fall, 25 students raced in the “Rosy Cheeks” 5K held in December.
On Saturday, 40 Rockford students will participate in the fourth-annual MAD Dash & Fun Run in Pilot Mountain, with their entry fees sponsored by Renfro Corp.
Last August, Flat Rock Elementary also began an organized running club dubbed “Dragons on the Run.”
Approximately 20 students practice every Friday during club time with PE teacher Tanner Easter.
Ten members of the club will run in the MAD Dash on Saturday, their first competitive event.
At Rockford practices, the students train by alternating running and walking intervals, gradually increasing their running while decreasing walk time.
Drills and strength training round out the sessions, and they also run relays – “just because kids like relays,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald said that character development is addressed through a different topic each week such as perseverance, self-motivation, responsibility or race etiquette.
Fitzgerald said the training has paid off for the students, some of whom had never been to a race or 5K before joining.
Now, “they can run it and they can run it well,” she said.
Six of the students competed in the Cintas race, with two coming in second and third overall, two boys placing second and third in their age group and two girls placing first and third in their age group.
But it’s more than just competitive successes, Fitzgerald emphasized.
“Running is just as much believing yourself and having strong character as it is running,” she said. “I’m seeing a change in character not just running ability, which is the whole point.”
The club has helped Jordan Snow “in everything I do,” the fourth grader said. “I used to give up on things. Since I started running, I stopped giving up on things. I push myself.”
The students have learned different ways to push themselves.
Edgar Reyes said, “When I’m tired I talk to myself and say, ‘I got this. I don’t stop. I won’t stop.’”
Erik Gomez said, “All I think about is the more I run, the faster I’m getting it over with.”
Reyes and Gomez ran together at the Cintas race, talking each other through the hard parts and racing each other at the end. They both placed in the top three.
Reagan Reece, a fifth grade student, who said he joined because he didn’t like ball sports, had a different method.
“Unlike most people, I don’t tell myself anything,” he said. “I just keep running.”
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.