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FIT for the KIDS

Hillsboros Liberty Fit is making great strides


On any given Saturday morning in spring, it’s not unusual to see nearly 200 people jogging along Brookwood Parkway.

It’s quite a spectacle.

And it’s even more amazing that the majority of them are high school students who have gotten out of bed before 9 a.m. to train for a half marathon.

Credit goes to Laurie Jenkins, organizer of Liberty Fit, a fitness program that started at Hillsboro’s Liberty High School in 2007.

The program started out with a handful of at-risk students whom then-dean of students Carlos Sequeira wanted to better connect to school. Sequeira, the students and a few mentors set out to train for the Helvetia Half Marathon. The 13th annual event is set for June 8.by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTOS: KATHY FULLER - Kili Marti, a Liberty High School parent and professional trainer, helps runners warm up on a recent afternoon before an after-school Liberty Fit session. Kili and her husband, Robert Marti, own Sweat 360 Personal and Group Training Facility in Hillsboro. Their son, Justice, is back for a second year of Liberty Fit.

Health teacher and longtime runner Jenkins joined in as a mentor.

In 2008, while training for her third Boston Marathon, Jenkins suffered a stress fracture in her foot — a “blessing in disguise,” she called it — and suddenly had more time on her hands. She became the organizer of Liberty Fit and hasn’t looked back.

From a dozen students six years ago, Liberty Fit has grown to 166 students this year, along with 42 Liberty staff members, 55 family members of students, 27 community members and even a handful of dogs.

The 15-week program is open to all and there is no cost to participate. Jenkins works tirelessly to raise funds, secure grants and recruit anyone and everyone to join the program.

Anyone, she said, regardless of their fitness level, can do Liberty Fit.

Three short training sessions three times a week after school and a longer run on Saturday mornings completes the basic schedule. Jenkins encourages everyone to do a little extra in their free time.

‘No problem’

Jenkins’ mantra is “No problem.” It’s painted on the wall in the foyer at Liberty High School. When students question their own ability to run a half marathon — 13.1 miles — Jenkins’ answer is always, “No problem.”

And she’s right. She challenges students who aren’t physically active, who aren’t engaged in school or who might be lacking an adult role model in their lives.

“You invite them, show them how. Be a little silly. There’s no competition,” she said. “It’s an amazing feeling.”

Jenkins’ reward comes in the form of seeing students reach their goals.

Last year about 75 people ran the Helvetia Half Marathon as a part of Liberty Fit, including two blind students. This year, she’s made a concerted effort to recruit special education students.

For Liberty High special education assistant Richelle Hall, Liberty Fit is a family affair. She has fibromyalgia. She convinced her mother-in-law, Clara Edwards, 70, to walk with Liberty Fit. Edwards has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

“She’s up and moving thanks to Liberty Fit,” Hall said, adding that being active has helped her feel better, too. In addition, Hall’s daughter and four nieces — all Liberty students — participate in the program.

“Laurie Jenkins is awesome. She’s such an inspiration to the whole community,” Hall said.

Building community

For Jenkins, building community is the primary goal of Liberty Fit.

Everybody is welcome. But a program of this magnitude can’t work without buy-in from the students and community partners.

Jenkins has received grants from Nike and the Hillsboro Schools Foundation. The Oregon Road Runners Club gives Liberty Fit an outright cash donation in exchange for volunteer time at some of its events.

Paula Harkin, co-owner of Portland Running Company, also manages Run With Paula events, which puts on the Helvetia Half Marathon and several other local running events.

Last year Harkin donated 40 half marathon entries to Liberty Fit and discounted the entry fee for mentors.

“We are just a small part of Liberty Fit,” Harkin said. “We are able to donate money and registrations but the teachers, administrators, parents and especially Laurie do all of the work to create this program each week for the kids.”

Liberty English teacher and girls basketball coach Jessica Richter has also been a part of Liberty Fit since its beginnings.

She enjoys the opportunity to get to know some of her students outside of class. “For me, relationship building is the best part,” Richter said.

Junior Jahziel Ruiz is participating in Liberty Fit for the third year. Ruiz said it’s a fun way to meet new people and added that he surprised himself when he finished his first half marathon.

“It’s a cool experience doing a half marathon. The first half I thought I wasn’t going to make it, but everybody knows about the program. They see the T-shirt and they encourage you,” Ruiz said.

There for the kids

The whole program has snowballed, Jenkins said, perhaps even faster than she could have predicted.

Hillsboro School District Superintendent Mike Scott participated one year, as did Liberty principal Gregg O’Mara. This year, school board chairwoman Janeen Sollman is running with Liberty Fit.

“Everybody’s there for the kids,” Jenkins said.

But no one hesitates to admit that it’s Jenkins who is their inspiration for accepting the challenge. And it’s Jenkins’ intent to keep on welcoming anyone who accepts the challenge and to keep the program free for all.

To help with funding, Jenkins and her volunteers put on an event called the Falcon 15K Relay each year. This year’s 15K relay is slated for April 20 at the high school. Participants can run the 15K relay with two team members or choose from an individual 15K run, a 10K run or a 5K walk/run.

Last year, Jenkins won the Governor’s Volunteer Award for her dedication to Liberty Fit. The school’s activities director, Nicole Thompson, nominated her for the award.

“I don’t want the attention on me, but anything that brings attention to the program” is a good thing, Jenkins said.

So what’s her secret for inspiring so many?

Simple, said Jenkins: “Give kids a positive thing, and they respond.”




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