St. Rita High School partnered up with John Marsh Elementary School of Chicago’s Veteran’s Park Community at the 2012 Ridge Run to create the first “Running Mustangs” program. Both schools share the “Mustangs” nickname, so it was a natural fit for Marsh’s 5th-grade boys to team up with St. Rita students eager to meet and train with the Marsh students.
On Wednesday, May 23—just a few days before the schools would team up at the 35th Annual Ridge Run—the Marsh students took a tour of the grounds at St. Rita, which included a brief practice on St. Rita’s outdoor running track, a tour of the brand new McCarthy Student Center, and stops in the pool, gymnasium, and even a classroom.
St. Rita was proud to welcome the 15 young boys to their campus for the first time while the Marsh students loved their trip, with one student even referring to the St. Rita campus as “heaven.”
In total, there were about a dozen St. Rita students participating, along with several adult moderators from the Campus Ministry Center. The John Marsh Team was comprised of 15 young boys and other teachers and parents.
Race Day came on Memorial Day, Monday, May 28—and the schools were ready to run!
After arriving at Ridge Park, both teams circled up and stretched out before taking on the 5K race in the 90 degree heat. St. Rita senior and track team captain, Albert Alfano (Beverly, Morgan Park Academy), led the teams in stretching.
You could feel the excitement oozing out of the 5th-grade boys as they walked towards the start line for the race—it was their first time racing in front of a crowd of this magnitude. Clad in their yellow “John Marsh School” T-shirts, they neared the start line side-by-side with their new friends from St. Rita High School.
The Marsh students charged hard out of the gates—and nearly left their Rita teammates in the dust.
After the first mile or two in, the 90 degree heat had made its mark, and both the John Marsh and St. Rita runners decided it wasn’t such a bad idea to stop and enjoy complimentary water from the generous Ridge Run volunteers. The Marsh boys found other ways to keep cool, too, by running into the random sprinklers and hoses set up by the supportive neighbors along the Ridge Run route.
The competition was fierce along the path, as a Marsh-Rita duo would pass up one another, only to get passed again just a block or two later. It was encouraging to see the St. Rita boys pushing their young friends from Marsh to go just a little but further, a little bit harder.
“How many more miles?” became the joke between the pair of Mustangs as they made their way down the hill and finally back to Longwood Drive for the final stretch of the race—but not before another life-saving slug of water.
The Marsh boys were fatigued, but the finish line came up seemingly out of nowhere, and they emptied the tank with the encouragement of their St. Rita buddy to reach the finish line.
A high-five and a pat-on-the-back awaited the Marsh runner after crossing the finish line—they did it.
The satisfied look on their faces was something you would not soon forget. One Marsh student, Martin, actually finished in 9th place out of 64 runners in his age group—he surprised everyone!
These kids are not used to cheering crowds or the type of support from our wonderful Beverly/Morgan Park community. It made their day to hear the fans pushing them on and left an impact on each of them.
The 15 Marsh boys were now a real team and the St. Rita boys know what type of impact they can make on a younger person’s life just by being supportive and a role-model.
It was a warm feeling for adults of both schools to see a 5th-grader laughing it up with a 17-year-old. Both were already “Mustangs”, and now both were teammates and friends.
Nothing will stop either group of Mustangs at next year’s Ridge Run—not even 90+ degree heat.
Thank you for your time.
Ed Leiser ‘04