Jorge Estrada and Melany Velazquez know that each time they go out running, they’ll be able to go a little farther than the last time.
Fueled by endorphins, energy and the desire to stay healthy, the two 15-year-old Roseland Collegiate Prep students said they feel like they could run forever.
“It feels like you can accomplish anything you want, like you can accomplish your dreams,” Estrada said.
They are members of a new runners group at the high school that has ballooned in popularity and is turning southwest Santa Rosa streets into a training ground for socializing, staying healthy and feeling good about each other.
The teen running group, called Movimiento Roseland Runners, which means Roseland Runners Movement, began this past winter, after the school’s cross-country season had ended. Team members asked their coach, Collegiate Prep science teacher Christine Byrne, if they could continue getting together to run.
The high school’s campus, the old Ursuline High School in northeast Santa Rosa, was badly damaged during the Tubbs fire last October. Roseland Collegiate Prep eventually moved into the old Roseland University Prep campus on Sebastopol Road when that school got a new campus in November.
Since Roseland Collegiate Prep has no track team, the new runners group gives teens an outlet.
“This is a way to still get kids out and running even though we don’t have a field,” Byrne said. “I think a lot of kids come out for the social aspects. And they come out because they know they’re going to feel better afterward.”
Byrne is a runner herself who grew up in Sebastopol, studied at UC Berkeley and recently returned to Sonoma County after living Oakland. It’s her first year teaching at the high school.
She said youth running programs usually focus on encouraging elementary school-age kids to ramp up their exercise habits. But such groups for teens are uncommon.
When the group began in January, it attracted about 30 students to the first practice. The second practice drew about 50, and it’s continued to grow since, she said.
What’s more, the runners group is beginning to attract parents and younger siblings, she said. It also has partnered with LandPaths, a local nature conservancy group that is letting the runners group use its properties for training, including Rancho Mark West, just northeast of Santa Rosa.
The partnership gives the runners a natural environment to practice in while helping them build stronger relationships with nature, said Omar Gallardo, director of outreach and diversity for LandPaths.
“A lot of people say the Earth heals itself, but sometimes we need to lend a hand,” said Gallardo. “I think that’s what a lot of the students are getting from it, and they’re taking care of nature and also taking care of themselves.”
On Saturday, the group is scheduled to hold its first event, a 5- and 10-kilometer run — called Roseland’s Cinco de Mayo Run — through the Santa Rosa neighborhood. The event begins 9 a.m. at Bayer Farm and will feature a health and wellness festival, music and food.
For the students, running has taught them a valuable life lesson.
“Each time you can go a little further, at your own pace,” Velazquez said. “I feel like I’m achieving a goal because I’m going further than what I usually do.”