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A focus on the finish line

Community: High school running club offers myriad benefits to local students

Posted: March 12, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: March 12, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Canyon High School student Charmaine Sadia, 18, foreground, stretches with a group of local student participants of the SOAR program before a five-mile run on a Santa Clarita paseo on Thursday. The group is training for the L.A. Marathon.

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There’s a phrase Kevin Sarkissian often tells his high school runners as they prepare for marathons and races.

“I can’t tell you how you’ll feel when you cross the finish line,” he says. “But it’ll change you forever.”

For the students, the benefits of preparing for a 26.2-mile run are numerous: gaining self-confidence, learning about healthy lifestyles or even getting better grades.

“Running allows them to focus,” Sarkissian said. “It takes care of a lot of peer anxiety.”

Sarkissian oversees the Students Off And Running, or SOAR, program, which exposes kids to the world of running and marathons.

The program recruits students from Golden Valley High School and Academy of the Canyons. It focuses on students who come from low-income homes or struggle academically. Often, the students have never ran in a marathon or even had the opportunity to try one.

Since October, the 17 SOAR students have participated in numerous 5Ks, 10Ks and 10-mile runs all over Southern California.

Inspired by a Los Angeles-based program, Sarkissian, Career Visions program supervisor for the Hart district, started SOAR four years ago with help from the Santa Clarita Track Club.

As the club enters the final stretch of its season, the runners are focused on the L.A. Marathon on March 20.

About three times a week, the students meet after school for runs around the Santa Clarita Valley.

Golden Valley sophomore Logan Wilson joined SOAR to build his running skills.

“We’re a family,” Wilson said, as he warmed up for a run. “We all get along. We all work together as a team.”
Wilson said he feels more motivated in his studies, too.

“I used to get straight Cs,” he said. “Now I get straight As.”

Students can take part in marathons and regional races, thanks to donations and sponsorships.

Demand for SOAR is growing, but the program needs fiscal stability before it can be expanded to all the high schools in the Santa Clarita Valley, Sarkissian said.

“Being with SOAR, it just really helps to balance out your academic life,” Academy of the Canyons senior Veronica Fernandez said.

Golden Valley junior Stephanie Velazquez looks forward to SOAR because it’s a chance for her to make new friends and be outside.

Along with feeling more healthy, Velazquez said she now goes on casual runs with her dad.

“We got more closer because of the program,” she said. “It’s a life-changing experience.”

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