By Shelley Grieshop
COLDWATER — About 500 Coldwater students got high Wednesday morning — high on self-respect, that is, while sweating through a 5K challenge.
The students ran, walked and even danced their way along the 3.1-mile route as part of the annual Get REAL (Responsible Enough About Life) Week. The week is set aside each year to promote good codeacter and decision making and to boost the morale of the junior high students and staff.
“It was harder than I expected,” said sixth-grader Craig Welsch as he caught his breath at the finish line inside Cavalier Stadium. “It’s so awesome when you get near the end and everyone gives you a high-five.”
Last year, organizers decided to add a 5K run to the schedule of activities as a way for students to show their codeacter and perseverance. The idea for the cross-country hike around school and through the community park came from sixth-grade teacher Connie May.
“When I was in Toledo, I taught at a small parochial school in Maumee that did many of the same things we were doing here with Get REAL, but challenged the students at the end with a 5K,” May said. “It was neat to see so many of the kids step up to the challenge.”
The idea was well received, to no one’s surprise. Several Coldwater school teachers, like May and junior high Principal Jerry Kanney, are passionate about running.
“Yes, a lot of us are runners,” laughed Kanney, who is among six local residents including May, who are competing in a marathon in Minnesota in June. “We know what a feeling of accomplishment it can give you when you complete a race.”
Kanney said boys and girls in fifth- through eighth-grade deal with a lot of issues and it can be gut-wrenching to watch them struggle through those tough adolescent years.
“That’s why we believe in the 5K challenge. The kids all cheer each other on, there’s so much support for each other and from the community. At the end, you can sense the excitement. It doesn’t matter if they ran or walked, they succeeded,” Kanney explained.
Before the race began, an emotional power-point presentation took place in The Pit. Next, warm-up exercises began at the stadium as the crowd joined in singing a silly rendition of “Funky as a chicken, loose as a goose,” led by teacher Dan Pohlman.
About 100 homemade signs were placed along the designated path to encourage the participants.
Dozens of community members helped organize the event and also participated in the race. Runners received a free student-designed T-shirt, which displayed a logo of a trackster on front and the encouraging words, “Do What’s Right.” A host of other items including after-race refreshments also were donated by area sponsors.
The students were pumped, jumping up and down as they crossed the finish line, congratulating each other and encouraging others who trailed — faces red and nearly out of breath — down the final stretch.
“This really brings everyone together as one,” said Kelsey Wenning, as she sipped on a bottle of water after her 32-minute run/walk. “This is all about ourselves and respecting others. It really makes you feel good inside.”
Wenning, an eighth-grader, said the sad part for her is that this is her last year to partake in Get REAL Week.
“Although I know there’ll be fun stuff in high school, too,” she added.
May, who cheered on runners as they approached the spongy track, said preparing for life is a lot like running a 5K.
“It’s all about making good choices, whether to prepare or not... to run or walk... whether to push yourself,” she said.