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Running for a cause

By Judith Forman, Globe Staff Correspondent, 2/10/2002

The field behind Oakdale School was muddy on Monday but that didn't stop 10 fifth-graders and a teacher from running the last laps needed to make 100 miles.

The 10 students ran a mile a week for 10 weeks - or 100 miles - to mark Oakdale's 100th birthday. With the coaching of school speech pathologist Kerry Drummey, the "Centennial Runners' Club" took shape at the end of October. The club has met for 10 Mondays. When the weather was nice, they ran the mile outside (five laps around the field). Sometimes, they were stuck indoors for the run (25 laps around the gym). If someone was absent, the other students would split the laps to make sure the 10 miles were completed.

"I'm really proud of them," said Drummey, who is training for her second Boston Marathon. "They never complained. They're a great group of kids."

The idea took shape from the support she received from the school for her own runs. When Drummey ran Boston last year and the Dublin Marathon in 2000, the school community made her signs, cheered her on, and helped her with fund-raising.

"The kids were always so into the running and so interested, so supportive, I thought they would really enjoy having the experience themselves to do some running," she said. In addition to getting a workout, she said, the exercise gave the students a lesson in teamwork, perseverance, and the way to manage a big goal.

The club was organized on a first-come, first-serve basis for Oakdale's fifth-graders, Drummey said, and she had more interested students than slots. It was limited to 10 runners to keep the club manageable.

Before Monday's run, Drummey handed each student five plastic straws, as a way to keep track of the laps. As they came around the starting bend, the runners dropped a straw on the ground to mark another lap done. Each week, the students updated a bulletin board by the office so the entire school could monitor their progress.

"It's fun because you get to see how fast you can run a mile," said Chris Pezzuolo, 11, who holds the club record for the fastest mile (7:22). Although he's not much of a recreational runner, Pezzuolo said he plays baseball, soccer, basketball, lacrosse, and tennis.

After the final lap, the students celebrated their success. As a small group of parents looked on, Drummey awarded each runner a medal, a certificate, and a T-shirt printed with a group picture. The parents gave Drummey a card and a plant. Everyone enjoyed cookies, cupcakes, fruit punch, and other snacks.

Jen Petrie, 10, said she joined the group "because it would help me with my soccer skills and stuff like that." Sometimes, Petrie said, she runs around her neighborhood with her mother.

Running is in Erin McNamara's blood. Her father, John, is a member of the Thirsty Irish Runners club in Dedham. Her mother, Sandy, is a former runner. The McNamaras met in 1984, when they were both working at Bill Rodgers Running Center in Faneuil Hall.

As her parents stood on the sidelines, Erin recorded her personal best this week, an 8:28 mile.

"I think it's a great idea," said John McNamara of the running club. "We're thrilled to have a teacher who loves running. It's a great tribute to the school and the kids really feel like they're contributing something to the celebration."

The 100-mile running project is not the only way the 372 Oakdale students in grades one through five are honoring their school, which celebrates its official birthday in March. Plans are in the works for a ceremony and luncheon in June, said school secretary Jeanne Boudrow, who's also the mother of a third-grader. The event will be held under a tent outdoors, she said, and will feature students' poetry and music.

Oakdale also will host a "Teddy Bear Picnic" to commemorate the 100th birthday of both the school and the toy bear named after President Theodore Roosevelt.

"The kids are getting into it," Boudrow said. But many don't realize all the history in the school. "If you look around it, the character of the building, it's pretty amazing," she said.

Parents, staff, and community members are invited to a "Centennial Ball" fund-raiser March 23 at Mosely's on the Charles in Dedham. Tickets are $50 a person, Boudrow said, and proceeds will go toward a mobile computer lab for the school.

Back in the the gym at the post-run party, Carolyn Tavares thought about her own exercise as she and her son, Michael, 11, got ready to leave. The mother of five boys, who keeps in shape on her treadmill, said she was inspired by the club's 100 miles.

"I would love to go run," she said. "Maybe I'll run with with my son."

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