When Conan Jurkowski began a training program last month for kids at Edison Middle School, he wanted to help them prepare for the 5K race at the Illinois Marathon.
But more than that, he wanted the students to see that running is something they can do all their lives, a way to have fun with friends.
“It’s something I wanted to do for them, to show them there’s more to running than cross-country,” Jurkowski said. The Illinois Marathon “is such a huge event. It’s so great to see (the students) involved in the community.”
Jurkowski, a sixth-grade math teacher at Edison, has been the assistant cross-country coach there for the past three years. He loves running with the cross-country team, and he knew many of them were planning to run the 5K on May 1. So he began the after-school training program in late March.
It’s open to any Edison student, although most of the 20 to 25 kids involved are also on the cross-country team.
Some of the runners have done a 5K race before, but many haven’t. They started running a mile and a half, and have been building up. Jurkowski said many of them haven’t run since cross-country season ended. They’ve been running three times a week, and they added a fourth day this week.
“This is great tie-in for next season because we start practicing in the next couple of months,” Jurkowski said. “Hopefully they’ll take this (conditioning) into next season.”
The Edison cross-country team is also working at a water stop during the first half of the marathon.
The runners said Jurkowski’s program gives them structure, and they probably wouldn’t run as much if they had to do it on their own.
Sixth-grader Hannah Shinew, who ran the Illinois 5K last year, said she enjoys training again with her friends.
Neda Sroka, an eighth-grader, agreed: “Running with a group of people is much better than training by yourself.”
Sixth-grader Ashton Hyatt is not only training for the 5K. He’s also using the race as a way to raise money for a memorial garden at Edison for Curtis McKinney, a PE teacher at Edison who died suddenly last week.
During the race, Ashton will be wearing an Illinois Marathon singlet that says “Thank you Mr. McKinney” on the back. He’s had teachers and students sign the shirt.
Jurkowski said he’s found running builds character.
“I’ve learned so many lessons through running, about how to push yourself,” he said. “You can use that in life. Hopefully they use that with their schoolwork.”