On the eve of their districtwide cross-country race, Seltice Elementary School students in Post Falls received race tips from two marathoners who work as personal trainers at a nearby athletic club.
Heath Wiltse, a 25-time marathoner, led the students Tuesday in stretching exercises before they took to the field for laps. He swung his legs back and forth, jogged in place, then walked the gym’s perimeter, squatting into deep knee bends with each step.
“We run marathons and we do these stretches before every one of our races,” Wiltse, general manager at Peak Health and Wellness in Post Falls, told the kids.
The running clinic marked the first in a planned series of weekly sessions to be delivered by Peak’s trainers, who are working with teachers at Seltice Elementary to improve students’ physical fitness. Long-term, Wiltse said he’d like trainers to lead a conditioning program at the health club for students that could evolve into other types of fitness programming.
“We’re right here, down the road,” said Wiltse. “Maybe it could domino into the whole school system.”
The fitness series is an outgrowth of the district’s partnership with Peak to offer employees discounted memberships to encourage them to become more physically fit.
Laurie Buckel, a Seltice fifth-grade teacher, took it to heart. Never a runner before, the 53-year-old dropped 70 pounds in six years and has now run seven marathons. Buckel and another fifth-grade teacher, Kathy Cooper, have led the charge to bring more fitness programs to students, to augment the half-hour of physical education in the curriculum every week.
“I never thought I’d even do it,” Buckel said of her marathon running. “It’s amazing how your mind changes. The people at Peak Fitness have been amazing.”
Sid Armstrong, the district’s business services director, was instrumental in starting the wellness program. “Laurie’s probably the poster child for success in our program,” he said. “I’m glad to see it trickling down and getting to the kids’ level.”
Already, Buckel and other teachers had instituted an aerobics class on Wednesday afternoons and noticed how much the students liked it. She said teachers are watching to see whether students’ academic performance improves after exercise.
“There’s a lot of research that correlates academic achievement and fitness levels,” said Buckel, a 16-year teacher. After exercise, she said, “They’re more focused and more centered. It’s kind of a brain-body connection.”
Peak Health and Wellness has held fundraisers to help advance physical fitness in the schools and on Saturday will hold a tag-team marathon to raise money for the new running program. Teams of two to 10 people will run laps around the Post Falls athletic club until they reach 26 miles. Participants are encouraged to bring donations and a prize will be awarded to the team that raises the most money.
Wiltse said he’d like to see trainers working with students in an after-school program that includes nutrition, weight loss and strength training education. He said the club has four multipurpose rooms that would be available to the students in after-school hours before his evening rush begins.
“Our goal is through fundraisers, there would be almost no cost or very small cost to the kids,” Wiltse said.