Imagine a group of 8th graders from Marco Forster Middle School lacing up their running shoes and taking on the LA Marathon. Sounds extraordinary, right? But this isn't just a one-time wonder; it's a fifteen-year legacy nurtured with enthusiasm and expertise, notably from the ever-passionate San Juan Capistrano Rotarian Ray Perez.
Ray isn't your run-of-the-mill mentor or cheer leader; this guy has completed over 25 marathons himself. He kicked off the Students Run LA Marathon (SRLA) program at Marco Forster around 2008, turning inspiration into action. Working with fellow Rotarian and then Mayor Joe Soto, Ray got Big 5 Sporting Goods to donate running shoes to the first team. He pours his soul into guiding these young runners, not only through vigorous training but also in fundraising and logistical planning. It's not about the miles; it's about the milestones, the personal victories each student achieves.
San Juan Capistrano Rotary stands shoulder to shoulder with Ray. Their financial backing and volunteer muscle power during training and race day underscore the fellowship and commitment that are hallmarks of the Rotary ethos. This collaboration isn't just community service; it's community building. The club underwrites the transportation to Los Angeles and the hotel stay the night before the race. For some, the trip to Los Angeles is the first time they've been that far away from home and the first time they've stayed in a hotel.
Who gets to run? Every student who’s willing to put in the work. There's no "you must be this tall to ride" sign here. SRLA is an equal-opportunity triumph machine. Together, these students train three times a week for over six months. They're not just building muscles; they're building character, teamwork, and an incredible sense of community. These are the life skills that you don't get from textbooks; you get them from breaking a sweat, setting goals, and smashing them.
Fast forward to race day, and it's more than a marathon—it's a movement. Parents, friends, Rotarians, and the San Juan Capistrano community gather to cheer these young wonders on. It's not just about crossing a finish line; it's about finishing something significant, something that requires months of preparation, discipline, and sheer willpower.
What's more, the program has a 100% completion rate for students who see their training through. That's not just a statistic; that's a testament to what kids can achieve when working together and being supported by a community that believes in them.
Think about the ripple effect this has. We're not just sculpting athletes; we're shaping the future—future leaders, future change-makers, future Rotarians, perhaps. With the support of SJC Rotary and individuals like Ray Perez, we're showing the next generation that they can take on grand challenges and conquer them. The valuable lessons they learn stay with them for life.
So, if you're wondering what it feels like to be part of something so incredible, imagine the sense of accomplishment these students feel. Now multiply that by a community united in a shared mission. It's invigorating and deeply fulfilling. This is more than a marathon; it's a life lesson in perseverance, community, and the amazing things that happen when you put your heart into something and run with it—literally.