On rainy afternoons, Lydia Dowdell and all her runners stay inside. They make laps back up and down the hallways. It's the equivalent of a treadmill, but for elementary school students.
Dowdell and four of her fellow teachers lead the girls running club at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in northeast Oklahoma City.
Even if indoor laps aren't the best, it's still a chance for about 30 young girls to learn, Dowdell said.
“I want them to know they can,” she said. “They can be whatever they want to be if they work for it. I want them to know they're great.”
Dowdell is a longtime physical education teacher who's worked at this school for five years.
The club runs twice a week — Wednesdays and Fridays. About 30 come each time, depending on after-school tutoring. If the weather is cold or rainy, they stay inside and run in the hallways. Sometimes they'll do line dancing instead. The rest of the time, they're outside.
In December, about 20 of the girls participated in the SandRidge Santa Run. The company gave the girls free race entries and T-shirts.
“They loved it,” Dowdell said. “They'd never done an organized run before.”
Dowdell said she's aiming for the Redbud Classic in April.
But the point of the club isn't really racing. Dowdell talks to them about things other than running — etiquette, behavior, their problems.
“They tell me about their victories and their failures,” she said. “We just discuss a lot of stuff like that.”
The goal is to set lifetime habits, the teacher said.
“We are the mothers of the world. We're the ones who determine what our families look like,” she said. “When they grow up and they're healthy, their families are going to be healthy, too.”
Especially for the older girls, the club is also a chance to slough off the pressures of school and their peers, Dowdell said.
Girls start changing physically and emotionally in the fourth grade, and Dowdell said they withdraw in gym class. They worry the boys are looking.
“They don't want to jump so high any more, and they don't want to run so fast any more,” she said. “They're worried. I was trying to get these girls by themselves so they can feel free to be girls.”