Rainbow third graders find fun in fitness

Third graders at Vallecitos School in Rainbow have taken physical education to a whole new level with their daily running program, “Commit to be Fit.”

Student Giovanna Herrara summed up the benefits of the program when she said, “I found something I like to do. I feel free and fit. Now I like to run almost every day.” With her classmates, she learned how important it is to be fit. She added, “It makes me feel happy. I have something to do in the summer.” For her, running is fun “especially because of my teacher; he encourages us to do better. I learned to do my best.”

Teacher Wayne Tortorella has been guiding his third grade students on the path to physical fitness through running for 11 years now and has perfected his coaching methods along the way. His goal is “to promote fitness and the commitment it takes” (to achieve and maintain it). He stresses the fundamentals of running, like having the kids warm up and drink water before running and warming down afterward.

Commenting on their running regimen, student Felipe Perez said, “It has taught me to be in shape and I learned to do my best.” Classmate Dylan Rupic said, “I’ve learned how to stretch and stay fit when I’m older,” while Cristina Chavez said, “It has made me faster, and better at running. It makes me feel in really great shape and even when you are young or old, you can run.” Anahi Bernardino learned “to run hard so that race(ing) can be easy; I feel happy when I run.”

Part of their enjoyment of the program is due to the new features Tortorella has added, including a once a week 12-minute timed tempo run. He said he has the kids run at “a comfortable steady fast pace; it’s all about time and pace, usually on Friday.” He uses the run to teach them how to have strength and endurance, “how to run fast but for a long time.” Tortorella also started using a chase game once a week to help them build speed. Five students are picked to chase the other kids and tag them.

Even though the aim of the program was to help his 19 students get in shape, not to run faster, they ended up breaking records by the end of the school year when Tortorella had them run the “Miracle Mile” on June 3. They ran one lap at a time with five minutes in between the four laps. Their times were recorded after each lap and added up for their mile time. For the first time in the program, one of the students broke six (accumulated) minutes in the mile run.

Valentina Diaz beat the old record by 21 seconds; her four laps totaled 5 minutes and 52 seconds. Valentina said, “I feel great and I have learned so many great things.” She has learned that “on the straight-aways, we go 2-speed and on the curves we go 3-speed (2-speed is medium, 3-speed is ‘all you got’).” She said she also “learned that we have to exercise before we run, otherwise we might get injured.”

Valentina likes running so much that she has started entering races on the weekends. She ran in the Vista Strawberry Festival Run on May 26, finishing in second place in the 6- to 9-year-old division of the one mile kids race. Her mother is working with her teacher to find more places for Valentina to run on the weekends.

Her classmate Kyle Smith broke the boys’ record with a total of 6 minutes and 10 seconds for the “Miracle Mile” on June 3 while all the students who ran finished with times under 9 minutes. Kyle said he likes to run because “I am always first.” He added, “Running is good for you; you get strength and healthier.”

During the four lap run, Tortorella continued coaching his runners, telling them, “Use your hands to keep you going,” and “You will be faster on the second lap because you will have loosened up.” At the same time, he is helping them better understand how their bodies work.

After the run, he told them, “It takes a lot of effort; it takes a lot of training, a lot of fitness, to do what you just did.” He added, “The effort you put into it is what you get in athletics or academics.” He teaches his students more than just the mechanics of running. Beyond mere exercise, he stresses fitness for a lifetime.

He himself works out five times a week at Club Paradise where he sees some of his former students working out. One, a 39-year-old, told him, “I used to hate working so hard in the morning [in his class], now I work out all the time.” She was in the first class he taught at Vallecitos, 27 years ago, before he developed his Commit to be Fit program. Health and fitness are his specialty so he is glad to see his work has had a lasting impact on his students.

This year, several of the parents have told Tortorella that their kids look good; they can see the difference in them from when they started his class. The students themselves can feel the difference their fitness program has made for them. After the mile run, James Yahuaca said, “I was so tired but I never gave up and in the last lap I ran fast and I got my high score [fastest time].” Kailey Perez explained, “To do it, you have to run a lot and get in shape, so I tried and tried and I finally got in shape. I am gonna run my whole life.”

David Yanez feels “very strong. I feel like I can do anything. I feel fit. When I get to fifth grade, I am going to sign up for track!” Rosalinda Zamudio said, “The miracle mile makes me feel really good. When I run I feel like we are having a lot of fun with my friends while we run. I run with my friends because it gives you a lot of courage.”

According to Tortorella, the best part is “they are learning who they are through this program and what they can do.”

These third graders have gained more than fitness from their physical education program. They have learned how to try their best always, how to never give up, how to encourage each other and that exercising can be fun.

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