When Carla Padilla’s son started school at James Dukes Elementary, she couldn’t wait to get him involved in the running club. But the club had been put on hold awaiting a parent volunteer to start it up again.
Knowing it was a lot of work, especially because she also had a 2-year-old at home, Padilla encouraged her friend, Rachel Duffie, to join her. Duffie, a fellow parent, is a certified fitness instructor.
“I just couldn’t do it by myself, so I worked on her during our kids’ swim lessons and talked her into it,” said Padilla.
Now, almost 10 months later, the club is, well, up and running with more than 100 participants, including parents who have joined in the fun. They meet every Tuesday and Thursday at 7:45 a.m. at the James Dukes upper track.
“We officially start at 7:45 a.m., but we started having kids come at 7:40 a.m., then 7:30 a.m., and then 7:20 a.m.,” said Padilla. “They are there already wanting to run. It’s amazing to us.”
After a stretch and warmup, the students and parents run around the track. For each lap, which equals a quarter mile, they get a Popsicle stick. Fellow parent-volunteer Valerie Davis helps keep track of their mileage, and for certain mileage increments they get an award.
Each runner is given a necklace. For each milestone they meet — 10 miles, 20 miles, 30 miles, and so on — they receive a charm to put on it. They also get charms for their themed holiday runs.
“For our December Dash, they got a tree, for our Sweetheart Run, a heart and for our Shamrock Sprint, a shamrock, and so on,” said Padilla. “Some of our runners are approaching 100 miles, so they have so many charms. They love it and get so excited.”
The gift comes compliments of Palomar Pomerado Health hospital district, which gave a grant to the club after parent Debbie Frazer wrote to them.
But the biggest reward in the eyes of Padilla and Duffie, who both grew up running, is the lifetime of benefits. It’s important to them to help in the fight against childhood obesity and to inspire kids to live a life of fitness and health.
“Some of these kids have never done sports, or never even ran, and they love running,” said Padilla. “It’s a positive experience for them and it keeps them healthy and encourages a good lifestyle.”
The success stories are many. Padilla tells of one runner, Samantha Shupe, who had never before run.
“It floored us. She did it on a lark and now her parents are running and she is a total rock star,” said Padilla. “She is a natural runner and all of a sudden a breakout track star.”
Same with Wesley Scott, a kindergartner.
“Here he is, this little guy, out there running with his older siblings and he runs like you wouldn’t believe,” Padilla said.
She and Duffie are starting to broaden their runners’ horizons. In April, more than 20 of them participated in the Carlsbad 5000, a 5K run.
“Some of the kids ran seven-minute miles,” said Padilla. “They have never done that before. They loved it. They got T-shirts, medals, a goody bag. Now, they are talking about the next race. We are just so proud of the kids.”
Padilla hopes that none of her crew gets transferred, as Duffie and her family are military, and that they can do it again next year.
“We want to continue running, competing, getting awards, and doing other runs,” she said. “I hope it continues on and they compete one day in high school.”
For now, they will continue to meet every week for the rest of the year and fill those necklaces with charms. They invite anyone who is interested to lace up shoes and join the movement that is changing lives one mile at a time.