Youth get taste of Olympics on Ortega Middle School track

by Ruth Heide, Courier Editor (Reprinted by permission of the Valley Courier, Alamosa, CO)

ALAMOSA — While the nation’s finest athletes prepared for the 2012 Summer Olympics, champion Zoila Gomez was helping a future generation compete against themselves for their best time on a middle school track.

Through USA Track & Field Foundation’s new Run With US! program, Gomez spent six weeks with Cynthia Valerio’s Ortega Middle School sixth and seventh grade physical education classes. At the end of the six weeks, students tried to better their running time for a mile (four laps) around the track at the middle school in Alamosa. Almost all of the students bettered their personal times.

“We have been learning so much about goal setting, working as a team,” Gomez said. “They put it together today. Everybody was amazing.”

Gomez added that the support of instructor Valerio was crucial to the program’s success.

“For a program like Run With US! to work, it has to be team-work,” she said. “If it wasn’t for Cynthia, this would not have worked.”

Gomez also stressed lessons such as how important nutrition is and keeping hydrated, especially at this altitude. She told the youngsters breakfast was important to give them strength and energy for the day, not only with running during PE time but also with their schoolwork.

Exercising is hard work and requires nutrition to provide the fuel the students need, Gomez stressed.

Another way she helped the students understand how hard they worked when they exercised was to teach them how to take their heart rates before and after running. After they cooled down following a run, she had them take their heart rates again so they would understand “exercising is not going to kill them.”

She explained the Run With US! curriculum helps youth become excited about running and understanding it can be a lifetime skill for better health. The exclamation point in the title “emphasizes the pressing need to introduce more — and smarter— activity into the lives of our youngest citizens: Our youth,” Gomez said. “So this program has an aspect of inclusion, but there’s an urgency to it as well. It is time: time to make physical activity a part of our everyday lives, time to settle into the starting blocks of this lifelong race with fitness and nutrition, time to start this program.”

Gomez added that the program also appeals to patriotism and provides opportunities for youth to interact with America’s best runners.

“With the Olympic Games fast approaching, it couldn’t be a more exciting time to be interacting with these athletes,” Gomez said.

“It’s been a wonderful six weeks with kids and I am grateful to Ortega Middle School, USA Track & Field Foundation, and In The Arena, for giving me the opportunity to implement such a great program in the valley,” she said.

“In the past six weeks, I already made long time young friends, I’m looking forward to seeing them develop and put into practice what they learned. It has been a wonderful learning experience. More than ever I applaud and appreciate the impact teachers have in our youth.”

Zoila Gomez is one of 16 children and the first in her family to graduate from college. She is a professional world class marathoner, mentor, and USA Track and Field Foundation Run With US! program coordinator.

She came to the United States from Mexico in 1996 and a few years later enrolled at Adams State University. Her career at Adams State culminated in the winning of six national Division II championships. After graduation in 2004, Gomez remained in Colorado and has run professionally since 2005. With Alamosa as her home base, she has competed on the USA Running Circuit.

Gomez trains, competes and still dreams of making it to the Olympics. Very close to making the team, she finished fourth in the 2008 Olympic trials.

“It’s been quite a journey,” she said. “I think I still have more years in me.”

She urges the youth with whom she works to “enjoy every little thing you do” because “we never know if we are going to get that chance to do it again.”

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