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School club aims to improve fitness, health

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McParland running club advisor Ben Theiss leads the students in a stretches before their one-mile run around Doxey Park. Each member of the club is building toward a progressive marathon.

JAMES BURNS/The Bulletin

POSTED November 14, 2013 1:23 a.m.

Levi Huffman charged down the final stretch, building speed like a cyclone along Doxey Park’s cyclone fence.

Near the finish, timer and parent volunteer Sandy Snyder ushered a pint-sized runner in cowboy boots out of the way of others still on the course.

And in the shade, cooling off on the grass and stretching their legs, were a host of school-aged runners, all of whom sacrificed their after-school activities and rituals to join the pack. One missed dance, another the comforts of television.

Yes, McParland Elementary School has caught the running craze. With instructor Ben Theiss plotting their course, the running club, a chatty, energetic bunch numbering in the 40s, has taken on the progressive marathon challenge.

The club meets every Monday, Wednesday and Friday after school, gathering near the baseball fields on campus.

After stretching, this collection of third through eighth graders turn circles around Doxey Park, with parent and teacher volunteers helping Theiss keep a close watch on the group.

The view is mostly of sweaty smiles and dogged determination.

“Running is kind of fun,” said Dawson Mix, a 12-year-old seventh grader. Mix is fast-approaching the completion of his progressive marathon. As of last week, Mix estimated he was two or three miles shy of 26.2.

“I know I enjoy running more now than I did before.”

Mix gives a lot credit to Theiss, who keeps the atmosphere loose and involved. He doesn’t sit on the sideline, shouting instruction as the kids pass by. The two-time Modesto Marathon participant spins his cap and tightens his laces, joining his students for the workout.

“He’s a really good teacher. He makes you want to come out here and keep running,” Mix said. “People want to come back. It’s fun to run out here.”

Jadyn Snaer completed her marathon on Monday, Nov. 4.  She has a collection of colorful tokens to prove it. Members are awarded a foot token following each mile. The tokens collect on key chains and back packs, in pockets and palms.

“You’ll see kids with their chains and their different patterns,” said Snaer, a 12-year-old seventh grader who comes from a family of runners. Her father, Demetrius, is the Modesto Junior College track coach and a race director. “It really encourages everyone.”

For some, the progressive marathon will finish at the Heller E. Lipsett Memorial Run/Walk on Sunday, Nov. 24. The 5-kilometer and 1-mile races will begin and end at McParland. The event was coordinated by Theiss and honors the late Heller E. Lipsett, a longtime instructor with the Manteca Unified School District who passed away suddenly in June.

Theiss said Lipsett was an advocate of running and walking. She would appreciate the strides the running club has made in her absence.

Together, children young and old, are creating a culture of activity and exercise on campus.

“It’s good to be active,” said Theiss’ daughter, Maddie, a 12-year-old seventh grader.

Added Snaer: “I’ve always been competitive. Running is important to me because it’s what my dad and mom do. It’s a passion of mine.

“I’ll have little kids come up to me and I’ll tell them I try to stay fit by running.”

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