A commitment to youth fitness and education remains top priority over 35 years

College Park Competitors

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Photos courtesy of Spirit Run

College Park Elementary School competitors at Spirit Run

With 15 events for toddlers to grandparents, elite athletes to walkers, and even our furry four-legged friends, Spirit Run celebrates all ages and ability levels. However, after 35 years, its first allegiance is to its founding principles – celebrating youth runners and supporting local schools.

Spirit Run’s dedication to youth fitness extends beyond race day. In 2010, Newport-Mesa Spirit Run, Inc. (NMSRI), the 501(c)(3) non-profit that presents Spirit Run, introduced its Youth Running Training and Scholarship Program. With the help of members of the University of California, Irvine (UCI) Track Team, NMSRI trains students for Spirit Run.

To ensure every student has the chance to participate in Spirit Run, NMSRI offers free entries to underprivileged Newport-Mesa Unified (NMUSD) students. It also provides free bus transportation from Costa Mesa schools to Spirit Run. Sponsors supporting this effort include the Rotary Club of Newport Balboa from 2012 through 2016, and Hoag’s Community Benefit Program in 2017 and 2018.

Each year since 2011, NMSRI has conducted training in as many as four NMUSD schools. NMSRI has had coaches at 10 different NMUSD elementary and middle schools, and donated 2,100 entries.

Ashton Garcia, a senior on UCI’s Track Team, coached at Pomona Elementary for Spirit Run 2017. Currently, he is preparing Victoria Elementary students for Spirit Run 2018.

“I saw NMSRI’s training programs as an opportunity to help out a great cause,” Garcia shared. “From what I take away from practice, everyone seems to be having a great time. I hope to give these kids an insight into the sport of running.”

Pomona training

Students training for Spirit Run at Pomona Elementary School

Pomona Elementary has been part of NMSRI’s program since 2012. With 100 percent of its students qualifying for Federal free lunch, participating students took advantage of all Program benefits – free training, free entries and free buses.

Megan Brown, Pomona’s Principal, appreciated some less obvious rewards. “I enjoyed watching our students’ faces as they experienced a big race for the first time,” she explained. “Many of our students included their participation in the Spirit Run as one of the highlights of their year.”

The UCI students inspired her students about more than running. “The running club not only promoted fitness and hard work, but the UCI involvement helped support our college-bound culture.”

NMSRI is not the only organization in NMUSD dedicated to improving youth health and fitness. Beginning in 2004, teachers and parents have started elementary school running clubs throughout NMUSD to prepare students for Spirit Run and other races.

Julie Smith, a 3rd grade teacher at College Park Elementary, introduced the first of these running clubs. “The Running Club at College Park started as a lunch time activity for just a couple of grade levels over a decade ago,” Smith said. “It is now for all grade levels and the majority of our 500 plus kids participate each Wednesday.”

College Park students with medals

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College Park students pose with their Spirit Run finisher medals

Smith founded the club with a clear vision. “The spike in childhood obesity, diabetes etc. not only impacts student health but also academic performance,” Smith explained. “We try our best to promote healthy activities for our students. Running is an accessible activity for our students, most who come from economically challenging situations.”

Smith appreciates Spirit Run’s support of her club. “Spirit Run has been very generous to our program from providing UCI student athlete coaches, scholarships, transportation, and most recently connecting us with USA Track & Field’s Run Jump Throw program,” Smith continued.

Upwards of 80 College Park students enjoy Spirit Run each year. Afterwards, NMSRI rewards the school with a donation. “We use this money to promote running in the form of purchasing equipment for our training practices, awards for Running Club, and this year for the Run Jump Throw Track meet,” Smith stated.

Other NMUSD schools have followed College Park’s lead. NMUSD schools with running clubs have included Davis, Eastbluff, Harbor View, Kaiser, Killybrooke, Newport Heights and Paularino Elementary.

Harbor View Viking track club

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Members of the Harbor View Elementary School Vikings Track Club

Eastbluff Elementary’s Fast Feet and Harbor View Elementary’s Vikings Track Club run a close second to College Park in terms of longevity. Fast Feet and Vikings Track Club were founded by parent volunteers in 2005 and 2010, respectively. Each year they prepare members for Spirit Run, the Newport Beach Track Meet and other races.

Shane and Rebecca Corbin, Harbor View Elementary parents, assumed leadership of Vikings Track Team in 2016 from program founder, Julie Means.

“Our passion for running and sharing that with the kids is our main goal,” Shane Corbin said. “The Spirit Run has been a great event for the kids to look forward to and give them something to train for. The kids realize being part of a team is something special!”