City Heights Running Club Supports Students On And Off The Track
This week marked the first day of track and field practice at Hoover High School in City Heights. But for students like Oswaldo Gomez, it’s not the first day back to running. Gomez is a member of City Heights Runners, a year-round training and mentoring program for middle and high school students in the neighborhood.
The club is hosting its fifth annual 5K fundraiser on Saturday to help sustain its operations.
Gomez said he joined the running club in seventh grade because he liked the camaraderie, but he continued in high school because of the adrenaline rush. As he worked on his skills, he said the benefits from the track spilled over into the classroom.
“As I progressed through running, I matured a little bit, and the lessons that I learned from running, it carried on into school," he said.
Gomez, now a junior, said he has a 4.0 grade point average.
Hoover High School track coach Chris Brewster and co-founder of City Heights Runners said that's how the program works — it introduces kids to the sport at a young age, but it also serves as a support system for students in the lower-income community, where many may be immigrants or the children of immigrants.
“Running is just really a tool, it’s a people development tool," Brewster said.
He said the program's on-and off-season activities create a tight-knit atmosphere for the students.
“We’re talking about academics, we’re talking about family struggles and problems and issues at home, we’re talking strategies on time management and health and nutrition," said the track coach. "So just a lot of relationships are formed.”
Brewster said those relationships proved essential when a former City Heights Runner suffered the loss of a close friend. Brewster said the athlete, who was away at college, kept in touch with coaches while coping with his friend's death.
The program, which is supported by faith-based nonprofit UrbanLife Ministries, also puts students in leadership positions. Brewster said for a small stipend, some high school and college runners have helped coach the middle school students.
The upcoming 5K fundraiser, where the students will be working, helps City Heights Runners pay for those stipends. Proceeds will also go toward expenses for transportation, race fees, shoes, snacks and off-campus and out-of-town excursions.
One of those trips was to Santa Cruz, where Gomez applied to college.
Brewster said the program serves as a booster club for the track and cross country teams at Hoover and Crawford high schools and leads practices at Wilson Middle School. He said he hopes to expand the program to additional schools in the area, but that is dependent on resources.