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New club has these students in it for the long run

Christ the King School forms running club to encourage fitness for life

Published: April 10, 2023   
Dwain Hebda
P.E. teacher Courtney Cancienne formed the Christ the King School Running Club this school year for third- and fourth-graders. Runners, seen here March 15, meet weekly for one hour.

At 7 a.m. on a west Little Rock weekday, a line of cars forms a queue of headlights. While many of their classmates are finishing their morning routines, the 30 who’ve gathered here, shivering, have a different, some would say far superior, means for starting the day.

Welcome to the weekly meeting of the Christ the King Running Club, an activity open to third-and fourth-graders to exercise body, mind and spirit. No one’s making these youngsters be here — this isn’t detention or even a formal team sport preparing for a meet against other schools — which makes the dedication of the young runners who voluntarily attend all the more admirable.

“I wasn’t a runner before I started with the running club, but all my friends were doing it,” said fourth-grader Natalie Anderson, 10. “It makes me feel good and ready to do stuff at school.”

“It just seemed pretty fun to run around the track,” said classmate Colin Stuart, 9, who was also new to running when he joined the club. “At first, it was difficult to get up that early, but now when my mom wakes me up, I get straight up when she says it.”

The club is the brainchild of the school’s P.E. teacher, Courtney Cancienne, a longtime runner who’s always on the lookout for new and inclusive ways to inspire kids to become more active. Under Coach C., as she’s known, the school’s P.E. program has branched into unconventional directions from jump rope to cup speed stacking.

Cancienne said she’s long wanted to create a running group for students and when the school finished a turf playing surface with a track recently, she saw her opportunity.

“I was in a running club growing up in Richmond, Va.,” she said. “My P.E. teacher was amazing; we’d run three times a week, and it really sparked a love of running in me.”

The running club kicked off with the start of the school year with just two general provisions: one, it was limited to third- and fourth-grade students and two, it’s held at a commitment-testing hour of the morning.

“We opened it up to third and fourth grade only because they don’t have sports yet,” Cancienne said. “I thought it would be great for these grades to have something they could participate in. I have absolutely seen kids find their group with the running club, students who probably wouldn’t do a sport because it’s not their thing.”

The club attracts a solid core of about 30 runners for its once-a-week training sessions. Cancienne said the more serious runners in the group can cover about 2 miles, but no one is held to a specific pace or mandatory distance. Instead, she logs each student’s laps, posting them regularly to show their cumulative distance and provide motivation.

In addition to good exercise, the club provides teaching moments on the rules of the road, pacing and the fundamentals of running etiquette, things that come in handy with the multiple 5Ks the kids have entered since the club was founded.

“It really has been my favorite thing this year,” she said. “I have had nothing but positive things said to me by parents. They tell me it’s the only day of the week that the kids get excited about waking up.”

As the end of the year approaches, the miles and teaching moments have piled up. With less than two months to go until summer, the leading runner, Wyatt Cancienne, the coach’s son. has racked up 231 laps, or about 26 miles. All told, the club has run, walked and jogged about 500 miles.

Cancienne has plans for a year-end event to celebrate all of her participants, but it’s no send-off for the fourth-graders as they head into organized school sports.

“I’m actually going to open it up to everybody,” she said. “I just love it so much I would hate for any of them to want to do it and not be able to. So, I’m going to open it up to the whole school next year and make it possible for anyone to come out and start their day like this. It just has been so fun.”

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