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Mustang Marathon Club on 18th mile

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Woodward Elementary students run a mile on Monday afternoon as part of the Mustang Marathon Club’s progressive marathon challenge. The club has more than 200 members and will complete the marathon ...

JAMES BURNS/The Bulletin

POSTED March 19, 2013 1:27 a.m.

Michelle Crippen watched them spin circles around campus, plodding through an open field and skipping across the blacktop.

“We’re not running for time,” said Crippen, Woodward Elementary’s program director and founder of the Mustang Marathon Club.

“We’ve got a goal of everyone finishing.”

Everyone, including...

Cooper Hoyer cradled a sports drink in his arms like a football as he charged around a backstop, his cheeks flush and his brow wet.

In his mind, he was a football player, racing the length of the field. But in reality, he was an impressive second-grader, holding his own in the mile with kids much older and stronger.

Then there were the Bettencourts.

With her arms swinging back and forth and a determined look painted across her face, sixth-grader Josslyn Bettencourt high-stepped through the playground.

Behind her, somewhere in the sea of faces and knobby knees, Bettencourt’s younger sister – Jewleah – mounted a charge.

Jewleah loves giving her big sis a run for her money.

Make no mistake, though, there are no cash prizes in this twice-a-week race around the Woodward Elementary campus.

Out here, where the sound system pushes out “Eye of the Tiger” and the staff and parents cheer wildly, the prize is a plastic toe token no bigger than a thumbnail.

Oh, but it’s sooo worth it.

The Mustang Marathon Club completed its 18th mile of the school year on Monday afternoon, inching closer and closer to the finish of its progressive marathon.

A marathon is 26.2 miles and is typically run within a seven-hour period. The progressive marathon, however, allows members of the Mustang Marathon Club to tackle it one mile at a time.

They’ll arrive at their finish line at the Second Harvest Food Bank’s Hit the Streets for Hunger on April 6. For Hoyer, the 8-year-old with the blue PowerAde mustache, the charity 5-kilometer race can’t come soon enough.

He radiates in his Mustang Marathon T-shirt, smiling more than he speaks. Hoyer keeps his collection of toe tokens in his backpack – by the bag of marbles – and knows just how he’ll feel when he cross the finish line, trading tokens for a medal.

“Happy,” he says.

The marathon club has matured quickly.

Under the leadership of Crippen, a veteran distance runner, the club has watched its membership soar north of 200. Everyone’s invited, too: Students, faculty and staff, as well as parents.

Members pay a one-time fee of $15, which covers the toe tokens, T-shirts and finisher’s medal.

They gather on the black top every Monday and Thursday at 3 o’clock for warm-ups and stretching, and then they’re off.

Some bolt, as if shot from a cannon. The lead pack charges through the field like derby horses, each trying to gain the rail.

Others walk, soaking in the sunshine, breathing in the conversation.

With her bullhorn, Crippen cheers them all because marathoners come in all shapes, sizes and styles.

The Bettencourt sisters represent the spirit of the running club. They’ve made a rather mature choice at such a young age to be healthier and active.

It helps that they have each other.

Sibling rivalry is alive and well in the Bettencourt household, where 12-year-old Josslyn is a competitive cheerleader and soccer players. And Jewleah, the chatty 9-year-old, well ...

She’s Josslyn’s shadow.

“We try to race each other,” Jewleah said. “She usually wins.”

Crippen never thought the club would take off the way it has.

The Woodward track and field coach noticed she had some athletes who enjoyed the sport of running, but could care less about competition.

“They would smile and wave to their parents,” Crippen said. “They didn’t care about winning.”

She wondered how she could continue that love affair out of season. Eventually, the marathon club was born.

The club completed their first progressive at last year’s Modesto Marathon, which turns 4 on Sunday.

Since then, the marathon has become part of the culture on campus. It’s a conversation thread amongst students and teachers. Medals and T-shirts hang from classroom walls. Race times, distances and experiences have been sewed into the curriculum.

And in a tutoring class where Crippen helps, running is a source of strength and companionship amid all the frustration and anxiety of academia.

“It’s grown like crazy,” Crippen said. “I didn’t foresee how much we’d get from this. We’ve got teachers talking about it in class. I live across from the park and I’ll see families and kids running the park.

“It’s just given us a better sense of community, having something we’re all connected to.”

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