Senior Projects: Isobel Whitcomb Willow Wind Running Club

Taylor kicks it around the turn.

Taylor kicks it around the turn.

Teammates push each other up the hill.
Taylor kicks it around the turn.

On a sunny October afternoon at 2:45, a group of four or so students meet in the shade of a Willow tree at Willow Wind School. Leading the group is Isobel Whitcomb, a senior at AHS, varsity member of the cross country team, and former student of Willow Wind. The run is part of Whitcomb’s senior project, a Willow Wind cross country team. The priority of the team is to introduce younger kids to running, and provide a sense of teamwork, eventually leading up to the Monster Dash 5 kilometer run in Lithia Park on Saturday, the 27th.

Whitcomb came up with the idea when she was a sophomore as she and two cross country teammates wandered around the campus of Willow Wind, an alternative education program for students from kindergarten through twelfth grade. As they walked, they discussed Willow Wind’s lack of sports. It was then that Whitcomb came up with the idea of cross-country team for Willow Wind. At first it was only a thought with no seriousness to it, but the idea began to grow on Whitcomb. Two years later as a senior, Whitcomb brought the idea to reality with the help of her mentor Jenny Slawta, the coordinator of Be a Fit Kid, a local organization to help kids lead healthy lives, and Max Lawson, Whitcomb’s former teacher at Willow Wind.

After all the students have arrived, the team sets out to do a “trail-relay”. The workout is part of the training cycle Whitcomb has planned. This cycle consists of trail relays, track workouts and distance runs that she rotates every two weeks. The track workouts consist of 100 to 400 meter speed work while distance runs are slow jogs ranging from fifteen to thirty minutes or timed miles. Trail relays are by far the majority’s favorite workout. The relays take place right behind the school on winding trails that run through thistle-filled fields sloping down to Bear Creek. Team members are paired up to match those of similar abilities and take off one at a time, one from each pair.

The course loops down through a grove of trees and blackberry bushes and out around the field. About two minutes pass until the first runner, Bryan, a thirteen year old avid BMX racer, appears, hauling it up the steep slope to tag off to his partner Elias, also thirteen, who hurtles down the hill. One by one the rest of the team returns to tag off to their partners. Whitcomb calls out their times and offers advice on how to pace the next lap. “It’s fun for them to see how far they’ve improved” she says, commenting on timing splits in workouts.

Each runner runs three to five laps depending on their abilities. Whitcomb tries to push them but knows when to tone it down in order to prevent them from hurting themselves. “They are the best judges of what they can do”. She commented.

When the last runner has finished, the team goes into an empty classroom to do an ab routine of crunches, planks and other exercises to build core strength. Afterwards the team gathers on some picnic tables in the shade to go over the workout. Each runner has improved their time from last week and they all seem thoroughly satisfied with their effort.

Since the team can only practice on White Days, Whitcomb faces the challenge of trying to encourage the kids to run on their own. In order to convince team members to keep running on off days, Whitcomb created running logs for each member. The students are to log the number of minutes they run on their own and after a week, the minutes are totaled up to cashed in for prizes, such as candy or keychains. Whitcomb hopes that next year the team can become a class at Willow Wind lead by Max Lawson and AHS Cross Country team members so students at Willow Wind can join without interfering with class-time.

This coming Saturday, at 10:45, the team will toe the starting line of the Monster Dash 5k Race in Lithia Park. The race has been the ultimate season goal for the team and runners are extremely excited to test their new abilities.

Whitcomb’s cross country team is the only sports team for Willow Wind students. The students are welcome to join Ashland Middle School Cross Country team, but the commitment can be difficult since the schools run on different schedules. Whitcomb’s project provides an opportunity for students to share a common or aspiring passion with others and establish a healthy hobby they can have fun with throughout high school and for the rest of their lives.