Jamasen Rodriguez used to be a typical junior at Modesto High. He'd come home after school every day, sit down, finish his homework and relax the rest of the evening. It was on one of these evenings that Jamasen's dad told him he had too much free time and should look into creating a club. Jamasen took this advice to heart and came up with an idea to combine his love for running with a way to help fellow teens in Modesto. In June 2009, Teens Run Modesto was created.
Only 17 years old, Jamasen has become the co-founder of Teens Run Modesto (along with his mentors Heidi Ryan and Mike Araiza). Teens Run Modesto is a nonprofit organization that focuses on training students to run. The program currently consists of six schools: Davis High, Beyer High, Prescott Senior Middle School, Hickman Middle School, Elliot High, and Run For Success (formally known as P.A.C.E). Each school provides teachers who function as trainers and help the students involved in Teens Run Modesto through a 26-week program.
The program has about 50 students and six mentors (one from each participating school). Teens Run Modesto hopes to help students develop a "can do" attitude which they can carry over into school, work and in life through first pursuing challenging running goals. Additionally, Teens Run Modesto seeks to motivate students to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
Adrian Oliman, an eighth-grader at Prescott Middle School, said, "I just joined it because I just wanted to get better at running. This program has helped me like ever since I started it, I've been getting better and better at running and it's just building my confidence, too. Before I started, I used to be dead at two miles. But now our daily practice is to run four or five miles every day. I'd recommend it to basically everybody; it's just a really good program."
Teens Run Modesto's objective is to train and motivate "at-risk" kids. These kids typically come from Elliot High School and are in danger of becoming susceptible to the pressures of drugs and gangs.
"These kids have hard lives, and sometimes they've even given up on all their goals. Teens Run Modesto challenges them to set high goals for themselves in running, in hopes that they'll build the confidence needed to set other goals," Jamasen said.
The 26-week training process is designed so that even beginners who rarely run can start on their journey to excelling in running. Students start by running (and walking when they get tired) two miles every other day. By the last few weeks of the program, students are running about four or five miles each day and continue to increase their distance by a mile every week. As of right now, the students in Teens Run Modesto are running 25 miles. All those long weeks of training are in preparation for the 26.2-mile Modesto Marathon.
This weekend, Teens Run Modesto has several events going on. Saturday, there will be a pasta dinner at the DoubleTree Hotel for all the runners. NASA astronaut Jose Hernandez, whose hometown is Stockton, will be the keynote speaker Saturday and will fire the starting gun for the Modesto Marathon on Sunday. The marathon features a full-length, 26.2-mile run, a 13.1-mile half marathon and a 5k run. The marathon begins at 7 a.m. and the course, centered around downtown, will remain open for seven hours.
Jamasen hopes that Teens Run Modesto will continue to flourish and that one day it will encompass all local high schools and have 200 students. "After all, our motto is 'Building confidence one mile at a time,' " he said.
All students 15 and older are encouraged to join (students 12 to 14 years old are accepted on a case-by-case basis). Teens Run Modesto will start a 26-week training program in September. Those interested in joining should see the Teens Run Modesto site leader at their high school. If your high school does not have a site leader but you still want to join, simply go to the nearest high school that does have a site leader.
For more information about Teens Run Modesto, visit www.teensrunmodesto.org.
Rebecca Mears is a junior at Modesto High School and a member of The Bee's Teens in the Newsroom journalism program.