Landis Elementary School fifth grader Chrisanthony Del Valle said running around while the wind blows through his hair makes him feel free. Instead of staying inside and playing video games like some of his peers, the 12-year-old said he'd rather be outside enjoying the fresh air with his friends.

And under the direction of Landis teachers Tyler and Lisa Gellinger, Del Valle has that opportunity thanks in part to the Landis Running Club.

The Gellingers, who have coached Logansport High School's boys and girls cross country teams for years, began the Landis Running Club during the 2016-2017 school year as a way to get younger kids interested in the sport.

The club is open to any Landis fourth or fifth grader, and over 100 students participated last year. This year, more than 125 have joined.

Like most elementary schools around the area, Landis doesn't have a spring sport, Lisa said, so the running club is a great opportunity to make sure the students remain physically active.

"We want the kids to be motivated and help them understand that running is an activity where you don't need to use a lot of equipment," she said. "You can go fast or slow, and it helps with your physical lifestyle."

And you never know when the students will continue the sport long after they leave Landis.

"We want to get them excited for the middle school program and eventually the high school program too," Lisa said. "So just opening up the different options for them so they know that it's not just the main sports, but you can really become a breakout athlete in a sport like this."

The running club practices after school every Monday and Wednesday, and it culminates with a mile-long race at Lincoln Middle School on May 9. Tyler reflected on last year's race and said it was a big reason the Gellingers decided to lead the group again this school year.

"The smiles that we saw on the students' faces last year on race day after doing this for over five weeks, to see that they could do it and to have their parents and peers cheering for them," he said, "I didn't know if we were going to do it again this year, but we knew we had to after that."

One of the runners that competed in that race last year and came back again this year is fifth grader Leila Popejoy, 11, and she said she'd recommend the club to any of her classmates.

"I really love it," she said, "and it's fun when we go outside and run. It's also fun to participate in with your friends."

Fifth grader Tate Strong, 12, is another returnee from last year, and he said being a member of the Landis Running Club has taught him several life lessons, especially when it comes to endurance.

"Just in general, it's about finishing the race," he said. "So you finish the race, even if you think you can't. Fight through it and just finish."

Because running can be a lot like life, Tyler said, and it's one of the biggest lessons he hopes the students learn through the entire process.

"It's all about hard work," he said. "In the beginning, a lot of them were sprinting right away, and then they realized they couldn't do that and that running's a lot harder than what they think it is. Hopefully they learn that life is going to be the same way. There are going to be hard times, and you have to power through it."

Reach Kim Dunlap at kim.dunlap@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5150.

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