Professional runners encourage Park Brook Elementary students to hit the ground running

Students at Park Brook Elementary in Brooklyn Park worked on their physical fitness with three professional runners who were in town for the Twin Cities in Motion Medtronic TC 1 Mile race.
Ben Blankenship, a 2016 U.S. Olympian in the 1,500-meter dash, along with Christy Cazzola and Garrett Heath, talked with students about physical fitness and their career paths, and participated in activities during the school’s fitness boot camp, where some students were preparing for the TC Kids Fun Run on May 20.
“One of the fun parts about this race is you kind of like, usually go to one these schools, and get to meet some of the kids,” said Heath, a Winona native who won the Medtronic TC 1 Mile race in 2015. “It’s kind of fun just to see the excitement that they have at a young age, you kind of just remember how you got into it,” he said.

From left to right, Garrett Heath, Ben Blankenship and  Christy Cazzola introduce themselves to a group of students. (Sun Post staff photos by Kevin Miller)
From left to right, Garrett Heath, Ben Blankenship and Christy Cazzola introduce themselves to a group of students. (Sun Post staff photos by Kevin Miller)

“Anytime you can … use what you’re doing in the sport to like, inspire more people and try to get people excited about running and being active I think is fun,” Heath added.
“I think being active, having an active lifestyle is key, especially at this time,” Blankenship said.
Cazzola was the 2016 Medtronic TC Mile women runner-up.
“It’s just an important piece to bring community engagement to the schools and immerse kids in different pieces of life, and so for them to get to meet professional athletes like someone who was at the Olympics, is kind of a really neat experience,” she said. “It’s like sort of giving them hope for the future. There’s a lot of things that can bring kids down and not give them hope so bringing that piece of hope in to schools is really cool.”
During their introductions to the students, the runners encouraged them to explore fitness and not get discouraged.
“Anything’s possible,” Blankenship told students. “I was the most unathletic kid in the world.”
“My last race, I was last place in, so … sometimes you’re going to win, sometimes you’re going to loose, but just keep moving forward,” Cazzola told students. “Don’t give up.”
Park Brook students are no strangers to physical activities.

Blankenship and Heath talk with students before walking around a park.
Blankenship and Heath talk with students before walking around a park.

“We have what we call focus on fitness,” said Principal Scott Taylor. “We do a lot of fitness before school, after school, and then also during the school day, and it has drastically changed our academic and behavioral data.
“Our academic growth has been very strong, and behaviorally, we see kids just knowing what they’re supposed to do and doing it, and much more engaged in learning,” Taylor added. “Our fitness has changed the whole dynamics of our school.”
Most Park Brook students sit on stability balls rather than chairs throughout the day. Additionally, every half hour, classes stop for what the school calls a “brain boost,” where students spend three to five minutes doing high-intensity work outs.
Some Park Brook students attend the Twin Cities in Motion TC 5K and multiple Fun Run events.
Park Brook is the only elementary school in the Osseo Area District that has a salad bar as a lunch option.
“I think that, what I see is that, our fitness is changing the whole culture of our school … the staff have fun, the kids have fun, and we’re seeing a lot of success,” Taylor said.

Contact Kevin Miller at [email protected]