Dipsea Kidz Program Aiming To Grow On Its Success

The Dipsea Kidz program appears to be a runaway hit.

"They are finishing what they started," says Richard Martinez, its coach.

As the youth fitness, health, education and leadership running club at Willow Creek Academy in Sausalito begins its second year, the Dipsea Kidz are growing in numbers and reputation. Last year, seeded with a $25,000 donation by the Marin County Board of Supervisors to the Dipsea Race Foundation, Dipsea Kidz improved not only the stopwatch times of its first-time participants but developed key qualities in their middle school lives.

Now the Dipsea Race Foundation needs more donations to sustain the success of the Dipsea Kidz.

"What I find really appealing about it is, whether running or any other sport that a kid throws him or herself into, is that you learn about discipline, you learn about practice and you learn that results don't come right away," says Carol Cooper, Willow Creek Academy principal. "You learn about focus and about perseverance, things that a lot of kids have trouble with in their normal environment. These are qualities and skills that students can then transfer to other facets of their lives. A particularly nice thing about running is that to participate one just needs some decent shoes, can participate in the sport as an individual and/or as a team member. In addition, age rarely stops a runner from running."

The program launched with about 13 students in sixth through eighth grade last year. This year, fifth graders at Willow Creek Academy are joining the Dipsea Kidz and, by the sound of it, parents and students at other schools in Marin County have expressed an interest in expanding the program.

They see the positive effects the start-up project has had on the Dipsea Kidz, and it goes beyond the fact that Dipsea Kidz runners are leading the pack.

"I encourage them to be a good teammate and not just show up," says Martinez, who conducts training sessions twice a week. "It starts building leadership qualities and responsibility."

Willow Creek Academy was selected as the home for Dipsea Kidz because its student population is considered among the most diverse in Marin County. According to Cooper, about 70 percent of the youngsters in the program qualify for the federal lunch program. Willow Creek is committed to providing its students with activities that can help them attain and maintain a healthy weight. Part of the Dipsea Kidz program has included a workshop on nutrition so that students know what foods will positively support their running well. As part of the school's curriculum, there are garden, cooking and additional nutrition classes, hence Dipsea Kidz fits really well into Willow Creek's overall program.

In its initial training session last year, Dipsea Kidz participants were furnished with new running shoes, uniforms and running gear. Under Martinez's guidance, they not only looked good but performed well.

At district and regional track meets last year, Martinez took eight Dipsea Kidz runners to compete against middle schools with teams of up to 60-80 runners. Yet, the Dipsea Kidz regularly placed among the top, with four of them qualifying for the Middle School State Track & Field Championships.

In December, at the Mermaid Run at Crissy Field in San Francisco, Dipsea Kidz were in a starting field of close to 100 runners and all seven of the girls Martinez brought to the race placed in the top 20 in the one-mile event.

"They don't know as a whole how fast they are becoming until they are out there competing against other kids," Martinez says.

"The kids are so excited about it," Cooper says. "They laugh with each other and they support each other. They are rooting for each other. They are learning how to take care of the whole group."

The leader of the Dipsea Kidz may be eighth grader Misbah Mamoon who, Cooper says, "if we kept such records she'd probably be the valedictorian of the class."

Misbah, who joined the Dipsea Kidz as a seventh grader, clearly recognizes the benefits of program.

"I've learned that if you really put your heart to something, practice can produce results. I've learned how to endure," she says. "It's helped me in class, too, because I've learned I can achieve something if I keep practicing and it's given me confidence to try new things."

Misbah is one of the Dipsea Kidz top runners, but one doesn't have to be fast to be popular with the group. Alyna Quach falls into that category.

"She definitely is inspirational," Martinez says.

On training days, Cooper will look out of her office window and marvel at runners such as Alyna who project such determination when they practice. Everyone of them is engaged in what they are doing.

"I'm such a proud mother," Cooper says.

"I've learned to pace myself," Alyna says. "I've learned to put my mind to something knowing I can do it."

That's another way to measure the success of the Dipsea Kidz. The program is not only providing an after school training regimen to improve their times, but also affording them a chance to have the time of their young lives.

"It's opening up opportunities for kids who had no idea running could be a sport," Cooper says. "For a lot of these kids, this is a new concept and they discover they are good at it."

Hence, the Dipsea Kidz program has value, but it needs a boost. The Dipsea Race Foundation (http://www.dipseafoundation.org.) is seeking donations to expand, enhance and extend the program into summer months and increase the staff and scale of the program. Martinez knows Dipsea Kidz is making a difference in their lives.

"A child's Middle school years can be awkward," he says. "I want to instill discipline and confidence and start building leadership skills that can be applied across the board And running is the foundation for every sport you end up doing."