“It’s hard to start, but it gets easier once you get started,” said 7th grader, Lincoln Shubb.
This oxymoron is the theme at Ralph Waldo Emerson Community Charter School, where students prepared for the 2020 Los Angeles Marathon with Students Run Los Angeles. Volunteer mentor and English teacher, Julian Tarula, calls marathon preparation, “an allegory for life.”
“Life is a big long journey that’s painful and sometimes you don’t want to do it anymore, you just want to sit down and stop, but as long as you keep going, you’ll meet your goal.”
The students show mixed emotions – excitement, with a blend of nerves and determination. Each one arrives at this journey with a different goal in mind, whether to win a medal, exert bragging rights among their friend group, or to simply try something new. What students may not realize is how this journey will shape them.
Ryan Sidoumou is a 7th grader in Mr. Tarula’s English and History core class for students with autism. Before signing up for SRLA, Ryan didn’t enjoy coming to class, he wouldn’t turn in his coursework, and would sometimes throw things.
“His mom tells me he doesn’t want to play video games as much anymore, he wants to be outside,” Mr. Tarula said. “She said that before he began running, they couldn’t go out as a family and now that’s something they enjoy.”
The behavioral effects Ryan is experiencing are just a small part of the many benefits physical activity has on growing children and adolescents.
Physical activity is linked to numerous positive effects, including:
- Elevated mood changes
- Boost in self-esteem
- Improved cognitive function and quality of life
- Decreasing symptoms associated with depression
A study in Frontiers in Physiology suggests that regular exercise protects against the negative emotional consequences of stress.
Take 8th grader Sabrina Tanner, a second-year SRLA student, “I noticed that I could be sad about anything, but when I run, it just takes away everything and makes me feel free.”
For Mr. Tarula, this journey is more internal than physical for his students.
“Any time we do things with the whole academy and ask, who went above and beyond and who is meeting their goals, it’s always the SRLA kids,” Tarula said. “It just teaches them responsibility. It teaches them perseverance and that life lesson that life is hard. There’s nothing you can do but work hard.”
And work hard they do! Students prepare as early as 4 or 5 a.m. on Sundays for long runs and even throughout winter break.
“The SBSM fitness center has been a godsend,” Tarula said. “Last year when we had that torrential rain, we would just come in here on the weekends and we would just spin for a while. It’s just nice to have a space to be able to train my students.”
The SBSM fitness center has played a pivotal role for students at Emerson.
“Working out in the fitness center helped me figure out what my weakness is and what my strengths are,” said Sabrina.
“It’s all about the workouts to get ready for the marathon that’s coming up again. And I’m just really ready for this,” said 8th grader Rosemary Devian.
Rosemary joined SRLA in 7th grade when she heard she could win medals and t-shirts. She has come back for her second year because of the friends she’s made and the experience she’s had.
“It was a very fun experience, but very tiring and lots of work. You can see the progress in my running and how I have gotten better,” she said.
Despite the reasons they joined, each experience is individual. Like Lincoln, some students question why they began in the first place. Some, like Sabrina, zone out and let the music motivate them. But others, like Rosemary, use their time running to check in with themselves.
“In my head I usually just talk to myself and give myself confidence,” said Rosemary. “I tell myself that I can do this. Right before the race starts I say, ‘I’ll see you once you’re finished.’ And after I’m finished, I say, ‘Hey you did it, you got through it. Now we’re ready for the next one.’”
It is this kind of resilience that physical activity helps to instill in young people. When faced with an obstacle, or goal, students have a choice, to quit or to keep going.
Like Mr. Tarula’s allegory for life, “sometimes you want to quit, but as long as you keep going, you’ll meet your goal.”
Lincoln said it best, “it’s hard to start, but it gets easier once you get started.”
Maybe all our students really need in addition to access and opportunity, is to get started.
Maybe our students just need a nudge, a voice from a peer or teacher letting them know that though the journey will be tough, it is well worth the experience and hard work.