Seventh grade mile run offers lessons for life

by Dr. Jinger Gustafson

The fall of my seventh grade year was filled with joy. I had the chance to meet my new teachers, re-connect with the adults who I knew in sixth grade, and for the first time have a class that was called physical education and do this thing called the “mile run.”

In preparation for this fitness event, I remember the physical education teacher giving our class running tips such as eyes straight ahead, keep your head up because that helps with breathing, cup your hands like your are holding an egg and breathe in through your nose and exhale through your mouth.

The phrase “lifetime fitness/activity” was used constantly throughout the explanation as to why this was going to be of great benefit to me in the future. I thought, “benefit in the future? I am 13 years old. I just want to get through this.”

Also, each of us had to set an individual goal and we had a class goal. The class goal was every single one of us was to help each other cross the finish line. I thought to myself, great, my classmates really do not like me anyway because I was, as they said “tall and ugly,” and now they were going to have to come to my rescue in order for our class to be successful.

Maybe… it would rain; possibly snow – it’s Minnesota, it could happen. Neither happened; but the mile run happened – and it happened twice a year. And twice a year, my classmates were so appreciative of me because I helped them achieve the class goal. Two times a year, I felt a belonging to my classmates – gotta love that mile run.

While in the military, meeting your physical fitness targets was an expectation. I was older when I enlisted so my targets were not the same as someone in their teens – since targets were based on age. However, our drill sergeant set a squad goal: no soldier is left behind.

As our squad would run, in both verbal and stride cadence, I remembered the helpful hints my physical education teacher had given me and my squad provided me the encouragement I needed to be successful. I was definitely not the fastest runner; to be honest, I was on the slower end on the running continuum. But my squad gave me the confidence, strength and perseverance to meet the goal set forth.

As I have gotten older, I have found that running is actually very peaceful. Even though it is an individual event, it has taken a lot of people in my life to help me meet the goal of running around Lake Harriet in Minneapolis. I achieved that goal earlier this summer. And, did you know twice around Lake Harriet is approximately 5.5 miles. I say, “thank you” to the number of people helped me achieve this goal (times two). Even though I run at least three times a week at Lake Harriet around 5:30 a.m., it has been truly a team approach. And in the back of my mind, as I slowly trudge along is my seventh grade physical education teacher saying, “breathe in through your nose and exhale through your mouth.”

So as we start the 2012-2013 school year, realize that whatever your individual “mile run” is, it is best achieved with a team approach and the strength you bring to the table that you may not even realize you have to offer. And, remember, “keep your head up.” Thank you to community members for your continued support in Anoka-Hennepin schools’ work to prepare students for life.

Dr. Jinger Gustafson is the associate superintendent of middle schools for the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

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