“When I was little, I used to be a really fat little kid,” said 14-year-old Eduardo Rodriguez, reflecting on a time six years ago, before he had picked running at the behest of his stepmom.
“At first, she just wanted to thin me out,” he said. “Then when she saw I had talent, she started training me.”
Rodriguez never stopped running. Now lean and fleet, he’s training hard alongside six teammates of the Arlington Classics Academy charter school who will run in the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics Cross Country Championships in Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Dec. 13. They qualified for national last month in Denton.
“I think we will do pretty well,” Rodriguez said. “But I know we still need to train and run faster.”
They’ll also be thinking about fundraising, lest they wind up with nowhere to run.
The kids, their parents and their coaches — Jesse Heard and Teresa Froese — are trying to raise about $9,000 to cover airfare, hotel rooms and dining expenses. The plan is for a parent to accompany each student on the trip, Froese said.
But the timing of the recent advancement hasn’t allowed much time for building a fundraising campaign.
“We were very surprised to have so many to qualify,” she said. “I think it’s a great problem to have, if we could just find a way to get them all there.”
A national trophy or two would be a nice gift to the school, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year. ACA’s main campus is at 5200 S. Bowen Road, the site of its intermediate and middle schools, which have about 850 students between them. The primary school for kindergarten through second grade is at 2800 W. Arkansas Lane and has 517 students.
The new and successful running program started in 2009 as a running club for fifth- and sixth-graders.
“It was just to get them interested in running and staying healthy,” Froese said. “As our school became larger, we became more competitive.”
The cross-country team, open only to sixth- through eighth-graders, was founded just two years ago. The runners found immediate success in local competitions.
Then in 2013, the boys and girls teams each won first place in the North Texas Small School Championships. At a USA Track and Field qualifying event that followed in Denton, two ACA girls advanced to nationals, in San Antonio.
In the 2014 season, ACA took its boys and girls championship teams to run in the Texas Charter School Academic and Athletic League Championships on Oct. 18. Both teams finished first.
Ten ACA athletes went on to the USA Track and Field qualifier Nov. 8 in Denton, where six boys and one girl qualified to compete Dec. 13 in the national championship.
The seven runners train at school in the afternoons but also on their own time. Brian Cichon said his son Jackson, 11, who also competes in the school’s other sports — basketball and track — is in his first year of running and is captivated by it. Now Jackson, who dreams of Olympic gold, drags Dad out of bed for extra cross-country training before school, Cichon said.
“I can’t run with him; I can’t keep up with him,” he said, adding he used to run “long ago.” “I have to ride my bike behind him.”
Cayla Bardere, captain of the girls team this year, was one of the two girls who competed in the San Antonio championship meet last year and is the only returning runner from the 2013 championship teams. San Antonio was a tough outing, but Bardere brings some experience to the team, said Heard.
“They got there, but I don’t think they knew what to expect,” Heard said. “I think now she’ll know what to expect and how tough the competition is. For the boys, this will be their first opportunity.”
Bardere got into cross-country in fifth grade and started her training at home. Actually, in home.
“When I was little I used to run up and down the hallways to lower my time,” said Bardere, now a 13-year-old eighth-grader. Then at school, she started running in PE. “I usually was the first girl to finish. I thought I was fast, so I started to run around the track by myself at recess.
“I just did it because it was fun,” she added.