On Your Health

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Running Programs in Miami and Grove Support Teens' Physical and Mental Health

Three days a week, pairs of teens and adults hit the streets in northeast Oklahoma, putting in miles together in a training program that will culminate in a half marathon. Some longtime runners hustle along at a quick pace. Some walk. The speed isn’t really the point, though. It’s about the finish line.

“You may think, ‘This is impossible.’ You may think you’re not able to achieve these things, but with your hard work, you’re capable of anything,” said Summer Beck, a community education coordinator for INTEGRIS Health. “Really, that’s what we’re trying to show them.”

Dozens of teens and their adult mentors have completed training programs through two relatively new running groups in northeast Oklahoma: Running Wild in Ottawa County and Kickin’ Asphalt in Delaware County. The programs want to boost healthy habits among teens. “We’re trying to teach them some life skills as well,” Beck said. “It touches on several different facets of healthy development for these kids.”

Oklahoma Running Programs Focus on Training and Respect

Celah Smith with Elizabeth West 

Running Wild, in Ottawa County, is now in its fourth season. Kickin’ Asphalt, which is in Delaware County, is in its second season. The programs are supported by several organizations, including INTEGRIS. The groups took inspiration from Run the Streets, a successful Bartlesville running program for at-risk youth.

The mentors, who come from all different backgrounds, professions and athletic abilities, are trained to work with and encourage the kids, while the students are equally diverse. Some students participate as an alternative to juvenile probation or community service, while others join to learn to run and make friends. Kids are expected to be respectful of their mentors and each other. If someone breaks the rules, that person asks the group for forgiveness.

Runners and mentors are paired by ability. The duo trains together for several months and participates in organized events, like a 5K or color run. The final event is a half marathon. This season, the teams will finish with the Joplin Memorial Marathon in May. The students get new running shoes to start the season and a team hoodie at the end. Season after season, the program has been a success, Beck said. Students complete the half marathons, and they know they are supported and loved. “We believe in them,” she said, “and we believe in their potential.”

Mentors Teach and Learn

Adam Pulley

Audrey Martin, a high school sophomore who is home-schooled, participates in the Kickin’ Asphalt group in Delaware County. Before joining the group, she hadn’t done much running, but her neighbor, Associate District Judge Barry Denney, encouraged her to participate. Audrey said Kickin’ Asphalt has helped her focus on healthy habits, but she especially enjoys spending time with her mentor, family attorney Christy Wright. “She helps children in bad home environments by representing them in court,” Audrey said. “Christy makes sure that the right decision is made for these kids."

Adam Pulley has volunteered as a mentor for all four seasons of Ottawa County’s Running Wild group, and he’s mentored the same student for two seasons. Pulley was a runner in high school but had given up the sport until a few years ago. Now he enjoys spending three days a week with Running Wild. He’s developed strong relationships with the runners, their families and other mentors. Mentoring has also helped him incorporate running into his health and fitness routine. “This program has helped me push my running to higher goals that I may have never hit,” Pulley said. “It makes me stick to a schedule. Another great thing is doing the half marathons. I may have never done one without Running Wild.”

Celah Smith, a high school junior who is home-schooled, ran a little and played soccer before joining Kickin’ Asphalt. This is her second season, and she said the program motivates her. “I have learned a lot of things about myself since starting (Kickin’ Asphalt) -- mostly that I actually like to run and that I can only go as far as I push myself. I'm the only one holding me back. It's all in my brain,” she said. “In season one, I learned a great deal about keeping pace and setting goals from my mentor, Elizabeth West. In life, without goals, you won't do anything