The Courage to Start

The students were excited. It was awards day for the Panther Running Club at Lincoln Elementary, and the PantherRunningClub.webweather was also celebrating by providing an unusually warm, sunny day in early April. The noise and activity level was quite high in the gym as the coaches attempted to arrange the students for their team photo, and then arrange them again outside for more photos. Soon, they were on the field, warming up with mentors from the track and field program at Hood College.

The Panther Running Club Project began as a partnership between the Frederick Steeplechaser Running Club (FSRC) and Rotary Club of Carroll Creek. The Panther Club began with four students in the 2012/2013 school year and by the spring, had increased to 20. In the spring of 2014, the program had grown to 64 registered runners.
Anne Light, one of the Panther Club's main coordinators, is a Road Runner Club of America (RRCA) certified coach. She is keen on teaching the students about fitness and exercise, and adamant they learn about respect, with emphasis on respect for others, especially their peers. They also learn how to set goals for themselves. To earn the "big" reward, a warm-up jacket at the end of the 20 week, twice-per-week session, they must not only achieve running goals, but meet and maintain additional specific requirements such as sportsmanship, and encouraging their peers to achieve their goals. "Since the Club's start-up, we have seen children go from rebellious to achiever. They are eager to learn the warm-up exercises, lead a group, learn which muscles are used for running, and become a team player," said Anne. "One student, who was border-line at the start of the 2012 academic year, has made academic achievements in addition to becoming a model runner."
The Panther Club has many volunteers in addition to Anne and her husband Greg, also a RRCA coach and Rotary member. The list includes Rotarians, FSRC members, Lincoln Elementary teachers, and other certified coaches who give of their time and expertise.
This year, The Rotary Club of Carroll Creek supported the Panther Club through The Frederick Marathon/Rotary Club of Carroll Creek Fund. Grants from the fund provided vouchers for running shoes from If the Shoe Fits shoe store in Frederick, the imprinted running shirts and jackets, and a clock/timer with battery and tripod.
As the students ran their mile, the Panther coaches and Hood track and field mentors shouted encouragement and provided high-fives as laps were completed. Some mentors ran with students who were finding it difficult to complete all the laps. In the end, every student made it past the clock and was congratulated on his or her victory. Appropriately, their running shirts say "I don't need to finish first....I just need the courage to start."
The impact created through the Club is multi-faceted as the students learn the importance of exercise, how to be part of a team, respect themselves and others, and being committed to achieving goals. "I absolutely love seeing how much this program means to these children and the excitement on their faces when they greet us each week," said Anne.

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