Academy Prep sixth-grader Louis Mayer dashed by a group of classmates on a recent crisp afternoon.
"Come on Josh," he shouted, before speeding up for another loop around the school's courtyard.
With physical education period coming to an end, most students had slowed down around the designated running area.
Yet, the 12-year-old was determined to keep running.
With sweat streaming around his glasses and his size 7 1/2 feet in a new pair of donated Axis sneakers, Louis kept pushing himself.
Just one more step.
Louis is one of the almost 70 Academy Prep students who will participate in the Tampa Bay Lightning Reindeer Run at the St. Pete Times Forum. They come from the school's two campuses, in Ybor City and St. Petersburg.
For eight weeks, the kids have prepared for the run through training that took place three times a week during their physical education classes. Aside from activities, such as running and walking, the training program included a course guide with exercise tips, nutrition information, goal setting and a weekly journal.
The Lightning Foundation launched the training program this year, as part of a year-round fitness and nutrition project called Fit Families for Life, which is intended to equip students with necessary tools for a healthy lifestyle.
With Fit Families for Life, the foundation partners with the school to offer students more information about nutrition, cooking classes and to teach them how to read food labels. The three-year program costs $50,000, which was funded mainly by the Lightning Foundation, BlueCross BlueShield of Florida and the Children's Board of Hillsborough County.
Academy Prep is a privately funded middle school for low-income kids who qualify for scholarships to attend. Students attend the school up to 11 hours a day, six days a week and parents are required to provide up to 50 service hours each year.
The students received scholarships to cover registration cost for the Reindeer Run as well as running shoes. Although most students saved the sneakers for the Saturday run, Louis wore his immediately.
Academy Prep has enthusiastically welcomed the initiative to educate students about exercise and nutrition.
"We are serving low-income kids who have lots of complications in their lives," said Academy Prep director of development Betsy Draper, 48. "Some of our kids don't eat very well at home, or they don't eat that much."
Now, she said, some stray away from fast food and opt for healthier choices.
"The idea of families exercising is our goal," said the foundation's executive director, Nancy Crane, 57. "This is a population that doesn't usually run."
Physical education teacher Roosevelt Kelley, 21, said that students responded well to the initiative.
"Some like to push themselves," he said, "they like to see how many miles they can run."
Yet, running more and running faster is not the only benefit.
Students worked toward achieving their goal of participating in the run and boosted their self-esteem, according to Gillian Barnes, director of development at the St. Petersburg campus.
"It's a valuable lesson," she said. "They can take that to everything else they do."
But the training did not stop with the school bell at the end of the day.
Students were encouraged to train with their families at home.
"It has impacted my family because we didn't used to do anything at all," Louis said.
He now goes for long walks in the park with his family. They also go swimming at the YMCA.
Saturday, he will run the 5K with his mother and sister.
Alessandra Da Pra can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3434.