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Teach the Children Well

Lanier educator Powell launches landmark running club

By Renee Powell
For Blount Press Row

Editor’s note: Renee Powell is a  fifth-grade teacher at Lanier Elementary. Inspired by her own results in pursuit of a healthier lifestyle, the maverick educator launched a running club for her third- through fifth-graders this year. To Powell’s surprise, the response was overwhelming, the club making its debut at the Cornerstone Classic 5k Run/Walk for Recovery on Saturday morning at Springbrook Recreation Center. Blount Press Row thought it best to let Powell tell her story.

Lanier Elementary student Lucas Gasche accepts his first place medal in the 10-12-year-old division from running club coach Renee Powell at the Cornerstone Classic on Saturday at Springbrook Recreation Center. Gasche won his age group in a time of 24 minutes, 47 seconds. Pictured, left to right, are Lanier running club coaches Mavis Ziegler, Erika Johnson, Lynda Regal and Rebecca Waters. Photos by Brandon Shinn

Two hundred and seventy-six pounds!!!

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw it on the doctor’s scale. I was not just obese; I was morbidly obese. This was my highest weight and felt devastating, embarrassing and defeating for me.

At 5-feet tall, I felt as wide as I was tall. I have struggled with being overweight all my life. In 2004, I got the news all overweight people dread hearing. My doctor told me I had developed Type II Diabetes.

When you’re overweight, you already struggle with so many physical limitations; so to hear I had diabetes was very distressing. I would immediately start two injections of Byetta and 2000mg of Metformin a day. I also found myself on cholesterol medication.

In March of 2010, after years of working through some childhood trauma, I realized I was finally healthy in every way except for my weight. My entire adult life had been spent trying to convince myself and everyone around me that I was a confident, content person, when, in fact, I was far from it.

That Saturday afternoon in March, I was sharing HONESTLY with a friend about how it made me feel to have no confidence, and to be overweight and unhealthy. I was finally at a point in my life that I could actually be real with myself. For the first time in my adult life, I told this friend how much I weighed.

It was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. This was indeed my turning point. Being honest with my friend as well as myself gave me the strength to begin a new life.  This time, I didn’t just go on a diet; I was able to enter into a whole new lifestyle.

The first and most important thing I did was soliciting and accepting the help of others. All the other times, I had “secretly” tried to lose weight on my own because I didn’t want anyone to know I did not like myself. I had done fairly well following a diabetic diet but did not choose be active in any way. I knew I needed to get my body moving.

Lucas Gasche, Elijah Linginfelter, Caleb Linginfelter and volunteer running partner Joey Hill, left to right, leave the start line Saturday.

To begin my journey, I immediately surrounded myself with friends that were physically active. They started inviting me to go on bike rides, play tennis and go on walks. At first, I felt embarrassed because of my size and almost passed on the invitations as I had done so many times in the past.

In July 2010, I went on my first adult bike ride. On that first ride, I fell three times, slowed everyone’s progress to a crawl and had “Jell-O legs” at the end of the ride. It was tough, but I did it . . . 8 miles! That August I treated myself to a new bicycle for my birthday.

I started playing tennis two or three times a week and began working with a friend on learning to become a runner. I tend to be a goal driven person so I began setting goals for myself. In May 2010, I walked in my first 5K with a friend who is a marathon runner. It took me 55 minutes but I finished and it felt great!

In my journey, the most important thing I have learned about becoming healthy is finding support. Whether it is friends who offer encouragement or activities to keep me moving, support and encouragement is vital. One particular supporter made a point to contact me every day to tell me how well I was doing.

Being a teacher, I see children as young as kindergarten already struggling with being overweight and unhealthy. It makes me very sad to watch myself in them every day as they battle physical limitations because of obesity. Obesity not only affects their health but their self-esteem and confidence. My heart hurts for what I know they will have to endure in their lifetime.

The inaugural Lanier Elementarty running club inlcudes: 1st row (3rd grade): Oriana Ibarra, Lily Durman, Kera Jones, Cody Best, Noah Bohn, Caleb Linginfelter, Kendall Clark 2nd row (4th grade): Makenna Shaffer, Lily Parsly, Rachel Kessler, Noah Durman, Ethan Garland, Chase Tilley, Jay Denmann III, Lilly Johnson (3rd Grade) 3rd row (5th grade): Nicole Hounshell, Katelyn Day, Maria de Jesus Nunez, Lucas Gasche, Chris Arbegast, Colton Clark 4th row (coaches): Rhonda Brewer, Erika Johnson, Rebecca Waters, Lynda Regal, Mavis Ziegler, Renee Powell, Christa Linginfelter Running Club Members not pictured: Ben Wyrick (3rd Grade), Lane Anderson (5th Grade), Lindsey Emert (5th Grade)

When school started this fall, I decided I was going to do something to pay my success forward by helping these students. I applied for and received a $1,000 grant to start a running program at our little school. I wanted the program to not only teach beginner running skills but also encourage students to develop self-respect and a healthy lifestyle through running.

It excites me to be coaching these students because I want them to get to know me as a person that has been where they are, has struggled with the same things they have, but, most importantly, as someone who cares and understands exactly how they feel. I want them to know the truth about what their life will be like if they choose an unhealthy lifestyle.

To select the participants, I sent a flyer home to all third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students, offering a spot in the running club for the first four third, firth, and fifth grade boy and girl that returned the form with parent permission to participate. This would give me four teams of six that included a boy and girl from each grade level.

Much to my surprise, every spot was filled the first day and I had 18 students on a waiting list.

Students signed a contract on the first day agreeing to listen to the coaches and maintain good sportsmanship. Any students having behavior issues or an office referral during the regular school day would be dismissed from the club and replaced with a student on the waiting list.

Lucas Gasche speeds to the finish line to win the 10-12-year-old division.

We met on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:45-4 p.m. Eight adult coaches volunteered their time to help with the running club. None of the eight coaches had much running experience so they were learning as well. Part of our time was spent learning basic running skills and the other part was spent on the football field playing a team game based on running. Everything we did in running club was based on “healthy competition.”

When our program started, only one student and two coaches had ever run in a 5K race.  The very first day, students and coaches made a promise to one another to all strive to complete a 5K race by the end of the season.

The first day, students and coaches alike struggled to run a mile. Each week we added a little more distance and focused more on pacing. By the last week, 17 of the 24 students were able to run 3.1 miles (a 5K distance).

Cornerstone extended care director Julie Hamlin, left, and Besty Tant, aunt of Henry Granju, address the crowd Saturday prior to the start.

When I started looking for 5K races in our area that corresponded with the end of our season, I came across the Cornerstone Classic. After reading about Henry Louis Granju and realizing we would be supporting an effort to end teen and adult drug addiction, I knew it was the event for our running club.

There is not a year that goes by that a teacher doesn’t open the local newspaper and see where a former student has had an incident with drug addiction. As I look in the eyes of my young fifth-grader, I often wonder, “which one might I see in the paper in a few years?”

It makes me sad to know some of my students might get involved with the wrong crowd or make a bad choice that will result in them becoming a drug addict. In the same regard, it makes me feel better to know of organizations like Cornerstone of Recovery that will be there for those students.

All of the 24 students and eight coaches that ran the 5K on Saturday were elated to finish.  The most touching time for me on Saturday was when the running club students and coaches backtracked the course to support the last student and coach across the finish line. When we met the girl, the students started chanting her name and she lit up and started running toward the finish line faster than I have ever seen her run.

As she ran, the fastest runner in the club jogged along beside her offering words of encouragement. It brought tears to my eyes.

I am very happy to know I now “get it.” I understand fully what I need to do to take care of myself and create for myself a happy, healthy lifestyle. My journey began at 276 pounds, a BMI of 54, size 28W pants and years of countless pills for treating diabetes and high cholesterol.

About two months ago, I reached a weight of 175 pounds and just recently learned my blood sugar level and cholesterol are in the normal range, eliminating all the medications.

Joey Hill and Caleb Linginfelter bring it home.

My goal is for my students to understand how important it is to live a healthy lifestyle. I get the most joy when I see others accomplish things they never thought possible. I, myself, have accomplished so many things in the past two years that I never thought possible so I know the exhilaration and sense of accomplishment it brings to me and I want everyone to have that same feeling.

Next year, we plan to double the number of students in the running club. If we can get a grant to support 48 students and enough coaches, we will go for it!! Our running club will continue to support the Cornerstone Classic and hope to have twice as many participants next year.




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