Lambert forms Mesa Verde running club, encourages students to pursue sport earlier

In middle school, cross country athlete Hannah Lambert (12) was among the many who treated running as nothing more than a PE grade. Associating the sport with dripping sweat, shortness of breath, and the scorching sun, she couldn’t wrap her mind around the fact that some people ran for fun.

However, after pushing herself to run the fastest, to get the highest grade, Lambert’s parents noticed that she took a liking to the sport. So they helped her join a cross country team where her love for the sport grew.

Now an accomplished runner, Lambert wants to give students the opportunity to run outside the confines of a graded PE class to show that it can be enjoyable. So when she learned that the middle school she used to attend, Mesa Verde, was the only one in the district without a running team, she decided to take action.

“I noticed at the high school level, many schools in our league have large teams,” Lambert said. “I thought that this was because the feeder middle schools of those teams had running programs. I was thinking if we start one at Mesa Verde, maybe those kids will gain experience and want to continue [running] into high school.”

After pitching the idea to her cross country teammates and earning the support of several Mesa Verde parents and staff, the Eagle Express was born. To Lambert’s surprise, over 60 kids showed up to their first practice last month.

“My initial reaction was ‘Oh man, I’m not going to learn all their names,’” Lambert said. “But [I was] amazed [what] I did was something other people were interested in.”

With their first meet next month, where they’ll compete against other middle schools in the district, the Eagles meet twice a week, providing ample time for training.

Practice officially starts at 3:30 p.m. when Lambert and parent volunteer Denise Bryan call the Eagles over to the basketball courts to explain the run for that day.

On this particular Friday, they introduced a group run where students run in a line and the person at the back runs to the front continuously. This allows them to practice race tactics while bonding with their team.

At 3:40, runners embark on a two-lap warmup around the field. Many run in packs, eagerly chatting amongst themselves when they aren’t panting for air. Others prefer to run alone to focus on self-improvement. All push themselves during their final stretch, motivated by the cheers erupting from the runners who have completed the warmup.

Once everyone is done with the warmup, around 3:50, Lambert instructs the Eagles to split into three different speed groups for stretches.

“Speed groups allow them to get to know people who run the same pace as them,” Lambert said, “When they’re racing, they can push each other.”

At  4 o’clock, the Eagles embark on their group run around campus for the final half hour of practice, breaking into teams of five within their speed groups to do so.

Students love the way Lambert runs the program, as her passion is visible to all.

“She encourages us to meet new people  and told us that we’re  part of a team,” 7th grade Lily Bryan said. “Everyone here is like a family.”

A major factor that contributes to this welcoming team environment is Lambert and her teammates, who help out at practices, acting as mentors for the runners.

“For other schools in the district, coaches are adults,” Lambert said. “Ours is run by cross country members, with some parent volunteers, so we’re role models for them.”

She said she hopes that the Eagle Express makes students feel good both inside and outside, and that they continue because of their own desire to, not their parents.

While runners do grow sweaty and out of breath, and oftentimes run in warm weather, they still enjoy practices thanks to Lambert.

“[Lambert has created] a kid-friendly environment where we’re able to expand and grow without peer influence” said 7th grade William Huynh.

Lambert hopes this will inspire a new generation of cross country athletes.

“[The Eagle Express] has impacted me by knowing that I made a difference in other people’s lives,” Lambert said. “It was awesome that the thing I had hoped to create has become a reality.”