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Amelia Islander

School of Running

Mar 09, 2015 02:33PM
“I never, ever, thought that I would be able to run more than one mile, and today, I ran eight! Joining Marathon High has taught me a lot of discipline because you can’t just skip out when you don’t feel like doing it,” says student A.J. Diaz. “You have to stay on schedule and push through. Along the same lines, it has taught me dedication, determination, and perseverance. I think about why I’m doing this, and it keeps me going until I see the finish line. Marathon High has built bonds for me, and also given me a new sense of pride in myself.” With tears filling the corners of her eyes, Marathon High, Inc. founder Deborah Dunham exclaims, “Exactly!” When this Fernandina Beach resident founded her non-profit program four years ago, that was exactly her mission: to provide an opportunity for any high school student— regardless of financial or athletic ability—to enjoy the rewards of participating in an after-school sport. “As my sons were approaching their teen years,” she remembers, “I ran across a similar group in California whose goal was to boost self-esteem and confidence through running. ‘We need this on Amelia Island,’ I decided.” Deborah had observed that when children are young, lots of intramural athletic activities are available, but as high school approaches, unless you are a varsity athlete, the opportunities become limited. Deb’s web-browsing idea from 2011 has now matured into a program serving seventeen schools and over four hundred students in Duval, Nassau, and St. John’s counties —including Fernandina Beach and Yulee high schools—who are participating in their fourth season of Marathon High this year. The structure of the program is simple: each school has a sponsor and coaches who lead the students in short-distance runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays and long runs on Saturdays, all in training for the half-marathon event at the “26.2 with Donna” each February. The best part about Marathon High is that you don’t have to be fast or a great athlete to participate. “We want the students to learn that by hard work, they can do anything! Training for four months, this after-school program allows high school students to develop athletic skills, social skills, self-respect, self-esteem, courage, strength, confidence, healthy lifestyles, and a positive direction,” says Deborah. Marathon High is about more than running a half-marathon. It’s about helping teens be the person they’re meant to be and challenging them to make the “impossible” possible. Marathon High proudly partners with the Galloway Training Program, which is a walk-and-run style of distance running. “The participants are placed in pace groups based on ability. More experienced runners run for four minutes and walk for one, while new runners run for one minute and walk for one. We remind them that anyone can do anything for a minute!” Deborah explains. Participants earn a jersey after the first month of attendance, a prized hoodie sweatshirt after the second month, and their race-entry to “26.2 with Donna” after the third month. Marathon High is funded through grants, as well as corporate and individual sponsorships. It costs $55 per student for the season and it is free to the participants, who are responsible to help with fundraising. “Half of what the participants raise goes to pay it forward for next year’s program, and the other half goes to The Donna Foundation for breast-cancer research and to fund the needs of under-served breast cancer patients,” Deborah explains. “It’s important to have the kids involved in the community service aspect to help them feel connected and learn about service at a young age.” For more information on participating in Marathon High as a coach or corporate or individual sponsor, visit “Being a part of Marathon High gives me a positive and confident attitude in every part of my life,” says participant Tessa Bohn-Carmichael. “I never thought that I would be cut out for any kind of running. It makes me believe that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to.”