QUINCY -- Blessed Sacrament fifth-grader Brock Krueger might not consider himself a runner, but he's already convinced he can run the 5K at this year's Bridge the Gap to Health Race on May 20.
"I wanted to try something new," Brock said.
He's getting some help with the preparations thanks to the Quincy Catholic Elementary Schools Running Club.
Open to students in grades 4-8 along with K-3 students provided they have a participating parent/adult, the club's afterschool sessions at Blessed Sacrament, St. Dominic, St. Francis and St. Peter train for the May 20 run using the Couch to 5K program along with warm-ups, cool-downs, stretching and strengthening activities.
This year's club "definitely has more kids. It's been more popular," said Blessed Sacrament seventh-grader Natalie Goerlich, who runs cross country and is in her third year with the club.
"It's a good experience for everybody," said sixth-grader Connor McDowell, who ran with the club last year. "You get to work on agility and get exercise instead of just lying around at home."
Training sessions began in early March and continue until the week of the race with the goal to get kids active, moving and having fun with activities no matter what their ability level.
"What I'm hoping kids will take away from the experience is that sense of âI can do it' no matter what I might think about myself or what someone else may tell me about myself, that sense of accomplishment for running 30 seconds longer than they thought they could the day before," club coordinator Denise Sangoi said. "I just hope they walk away with that and some enthusiasm for exercise, health, nutrition and taking care of themselves."
Some of that might even rub off on the parents involved in the program.
"I think it's a good thing that the school is doing it together, and I love our parish community," said Jordyn Haubrich, a mom of three who admits she's not a runner.
Blessed Sacrament's technology coordinator Dottie Buckman watched others participate in the club over the years and decided to try it herself this year. "I'd been out of shape, but I finally lost quite a bit of weight and figured I was healthy enough to get started," she said. "I've got two little girls doing it with me, a kindergartner and a first-grader. I want them to know exercise is important and keeping healthy is important."
Sangoi's inspiration for the club came five years ago at an end-of-the-season banquet for her son's cross country team and hearing Quincy Notre Dame Principal Mark McDowell highlight the lack of running opportunities for students younger than high school. A runner herself for the exercise, Sangoi wanted young people to have the same opportunity, so she spearheaded a running club at Blessed Sacrament in 2014.
"It's 100 percent a God thing," Sangoi said. "When I listened to Mr. McDowell's speech, I truly feel it was God saying âDenise are you listening.' It came together so beautifully and so easily. It's a cool thing."
The first year saw more than 30 students and adults represented the school at Bridge the Gap, and that grew to more than 65 in 2015 and 150 in 2016. "We tell everyone to be watching for bright orange T-shirts," Sangoi said. "They've come to know it's us."
The club last year expanded to all four parochial schools, and the enthusiasm for running led some to train through the summer to participate in other races and to start the area's first parochial junior high cross country team.
Training sessions start in the school gyms, then may head out to parking lot or into nearby neighborhoods. The four schools come together for at least four sessions, and Quincy Medical Group provides at least two training sessions with its trainer.
"This is not possible without support of the parents and the adult community," Sangoi said. "Safety is the number one priority with the students. We have to have adequate adults present during the sessions."
Blessed Sacrament parent Scot Fenton volunteered to help with the club, but stresses that he'll be walking not running after daughters Anna and Abby.
"It's good for them," Fenton said. "It's kind of a big family here. They just hang out with their friends, spend some time outside. I think it's a good thing."