Marathon club members grow as runners, people

Jan 30, 2019

For Old Rochester teacher and marathon club mentor Sheryl Faria, seeing students complete their first marathon tops the feeling of completing marathons or ultramarathons of her own. 

Called GRIT (for growing, running and inspiring together), the group was started by Meg Hall, an alumna of Old Rochester Regional. GRIT springs from a similar Greater Boston area mentor-based high school marathon group known as DREAMFAR. But Faria explained, “it was easier for us separate down here, and have more of a local club.”

Faria’s co-leader, Stephanie Vanasse has completed fewer marathons, but her dedication to the group is still clear.

“I have trained for two marathons but only run one. I got injured training for the second marathon three weeks before, but I rode my bike along the route to help support the students and mentors running in the marathon,” Vanasse explained. 

The club starts at the beginning of the year with shorter runs, and slowly increases the distance by running in local races.

Faria and Vanasse depend on donors to get bibs for most of the races, and fundraises for the rest.

Runners start off with the Turkey Trot in Fairhaven, then the 10.5 Frosty Runner race this month and New Bedford half marathon in March. They fundraise to pay for their marathon.

“We are always [training] outside. Because we’re not an athletic team we don’t get the gym time,” Faria explained, “So our kids, they’ve run in all the conditions and they have to adjust their running style.”

GRIT trains three days a week with two running days and a cross training day. Vanasse and Faria are also expanding to offer alternate days for students to run.

“We noticed this year that there’s a lot more clubs popping up, so we really try to adjust to the students because we want it to be more of a stress release versus a stressor,” Faria said. 

The group also includes weight training, aerobic fitness, yoga, and Zumba. 

Running a marathon can get students invested in running, and even earn recognition from college coaches.

That’s what happened with Kelsey Kidney, who started running with GRIT in its first year and now runs cross country and track.

“I talked to a coach from Salve Regina last night and he was like ‘yeah, I’ve run 10 marathons,’ and I said ‘I’ve run one!’ and he said, ‘wow, I’ve never heard of that,’” Kidney said. 

Running also teaches important skills and provides a connection to club leaders and adult mentors who train and run with the kids.

“It teaches them a lot of executive functioning skills that kids these days are lacking, like time management and long-term planning,” Faria said.

Tackling a marathon isn’t easy and also builds the students’ character. 

“They get perseverance, self-confidence, self-esteem. Some of these kids come in and they’re really shy, and by the time they leave the program they are a different person,” Faria said.

The benefits for her are just as tangible because she runs with her students.

“Even though I’m a veteran runner it’s really easy to slack. It reinforces the executive functioning skills in me. I have ADHD, so I still really have to hone in on techniques and skills,” Faria explained. “Being in a program like this forces me to learn the same thing that the kids are learning. I can’t stay in the classroom until 4 p.m. because I have GRIT.”

Vanasse enjoys watching her mentees progress.

“I love to see the students set goals for themselves that they never thought they could achieve.  The students tell me about how amazed they are at how far they can run now that they have joined the program,” she said.

The relationships between students and their mentors also grow as they train together and form running “families.”

“It’s a different connection that you have with the kids than you typically would have. When you’re out there and running with kids for hours, it’s not a teacher-student relationship anymore,” she said. “You’re an athlete. You’re each others’ rocks.”