I ran track as an eighth-grader at Grand Avenue Middle School in Bellmore in 2001. I wasn’t a star, but I stuck it out through the spring season and learned how to stay fit for life. I was 14 years old.
Last Thursday, I returned to Grand Avenue to run as a guest of the cross-country team. Now age 25, I completed 2.25 miles with the seventh- and eighth-grade boys’ and girls’ squads, and I felt great.
But the path from point A to B was a bumpy ride. In high school and part of college, I stopped running — and exercising altogether — and I became overweight. Then, at age 20, I decided to get back into shape, and did it the only way I knew how — by running. Within two years, I had lost 50 pounds and felt the best I had in my life. My middle school track experience came in handy.
For five years, I have continued my daily exercise routine, running and lifting weights. Still, every so often, I look back at my 14-year-old self and wonder why I ceased physical activity.
For Part Two of the Herald’s series on alternative transportation, “The Road Less Traveled,” I went back to my old middle school not only to get in a good workout, but also to figure out what motivates young people to stay active through high school — and for a lifetime. It is an important question to answer. After all, if people are to get out of their cars and begin bicycling, running and walking to get around, whether for work, pleasure or sport, they have to be in at least decent shape.
Back to school
Grand Avenue is one of two middle schools in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District. Adam Nislow, my former guidance counselor, and Jim Fox, my former seventh-grade social studies teacher, coach the Grand Avenue boys’ and girls’ cross-country teams. Many students’ first exposure to competitive sports comes in middle school, they noted. “Our emphasis is just to improve them,” said Fox.
Upon arriving at Grand Avenue, I felt a great sense of nostalgia. Two of my best years were spent at the school, and I was thrilled to be back. The Grand Avenue team has 40 girls and 30 boys. Seventh-grader Amanda LaRossa said she joined “because my mom and dad are runners, and it’s big in the family. I wanted to stay in shape just like them.”