Just steps from Roosevelt High along palm-lined Huntington Boulevard, a small fleet of young runners are stretching in the late afternoon sun.
One teen, 17-year-old Abril Martines, grips the laces on her dark loafers and pulls up, tightening the shoes as much as she can. They look like slippers, but Abril doesn’t seem to mind that she’ll be running in them for four miles.
Four other Roosevelt High schoolers steady themselves against tree trunks as they flex their feet and bend their knees. Every school day since the beginning of March, Abril and the group change out of their school clothes into athletic shorts and take a casual pace down Huntington in southeast Fresno. Together, they represent the school’s rugby, soccer and cross-country teams. But on this Monday afternoon, they’re here running for a common goal: to lose weight as part of Roosevelt’s annual 1,000-pound challenge.
The goal of the challenge is steep but doable. Draft dozens of Roosevelt teens to get active and healthy, and hopefully lose a collective 1,000 pounds by the end of March.
“It’s one of those long months without any breaks, so what do we do? Let’s go running,” Néstor Cerda, the school’s activities director and brains behind the challenge, said this week.
More than 160 Roosevelt teens are challenging themselves to drop pounds through healthy eating and exercise. Cerda said students have reached the goal at least three times since he started the springtime event in 2009.
Many who participate get their miles in during sports practice or dance class. But at least half of the students don’t have regular athletic routines, Cerda said.
“For us it’s just do it at your own pace, whatever you feel comfortable with, and push yourself,” he said.
One girl who joins the running group most days said she hopes to weigh in at least 3 pounds lighter than when she started the routine. The final weigh-in is Thursday.
“I just want to do it for my own self,” said Jasmine Gonzalez, 17. After the challenge is over, “I will keep going out there. I know I will,” she said.
It’s about a lot more than weight loss, senior Alberto Gomez said. Alberto is an avid soccer and rugby player, but was off the field for six months after dislocating his knee last year. He’s using the challenge to begin conditioning again, safely and without the pressure of scoring goals.
There’s also a sense of camaraderie among the group, he said.
“You actually have a lot of people saying, ‘Are you going? I’ll go with you.’ ”
Cerda, one of several Roosevelt staff participating in the challenge, said the students trust he’ll be there alongside them for the daily runs.
“Last week there was two days where I couldn’t get out there and they took off without me,” he said. “They’ll say, ‘You’re coming with us tomorrow, right?’ ”
And he does.
On Monday, Cerda is at the corner of Cedar and Huntington with the teens, ready to take off on a jog. Abril lets a kite she’s been flying float down, stashing it safely in a nearby bush until after she’s put in her miles.
The group dashes off down the sidewalk. Thursday is fast approaching, and each of the students has a goal to fulfill.