By Mary O’KEEFE
Every year the Los Angeles Marathon attracts thousands of athletes. Once there, the almost carnival-like atmosphere can overshadow the determination and training it takes to compete in that 26.2 mile race. But members of the Rosemont Middle School Builder’s Club never underestimate what it takes to get to the race. They are there to give support to the handcrank and wheelchair athletes that have taken that marathon challenge.
For years Rosemont Spanish teacher and Builder’s Club mentor Laura Rivera has brought volunteers to the marathon and provided a runner’s oasis for wheelchair and handcrank athletes. Under a tent they are provided water and are supported before, during and after the race.
“It was so much fun,” said Thulani Kachingine, eighth grader and club member.
Kachingine and A.J. Absy volunteered last year to help Rivera.
“The marathon was huge,” Absy said.
Each student was assigned an athlete. “I had Aaron Gordian from Mexico. He got a flat tire during the race, changed it himself and still came in fourth place.”
Kachingine was assigned Michele Fiteau from France. He said he had to help him through an interpreter but the experience was “amazing.”
“We bond with the athletes and with each other,” he said.
Absy agreed and added that the experience was life changing.
“There is nothing different about these athletes. They get treated with great respect but we think more could be done for them,” he said.
The club also wanted to sponsor an athlete to race in this year’s marathon but needed to raise money to help. Absy and Kachingine came up with the idea to bring Talent Paloosa, the school’s talent show, back to Rosemont as a fundraiser.
“When Thulani’s sister Tinashe was at Rosemont she thought of using Talent Paloosa as a fundraiser,” Absy said.
The Builder’s Club produced the successful talent show that took place last week. Absy said there is a lot of talent at Rosemont and tickets sales went beyond their goal.
Tinashe, who is now in the girl band The Stunners and has opened for Justin Beiber, returned to her school to show support and to act as judge for the show.
Absy said there was a feeling throughout the club that the show was going to be memorable.
“I was amazed about how much effort it took [to put the show on] and how hard everyone worked,” Absy said.
Suraj Parjha was the overall winner of the show. He sang and played the piano of one of The Jackson Five’s hits, “I’ll Be There.”
“The cool thing was my dad started the track midway into the song so I could get up and walk into the audience and sing,” Parjha said.
He had sung and played piano in front of an audience before but had never gotten up and walked through the audience.
“He also writes songs about changing the world,” Absy said.
The night ended with all the volunteers coming onto stage to sing “You Raise Me Up.”
The club raised enough money to sponsor athlete Shelly Woods to come from Great Britain to the L.A. Marathon. The last time she raced was in 2007 when she took first place finishing the race with a time of 1:50:55.
The club gets support from their sponsor, the La Crescenta Kiwanis Club, as well as their mentor Rivera who inspires leadership and empowerment in her students.
“She respects us,” said Carolina Arenas. “She lets us put our leadership skills in action.”
Ani Aghakhanian said Rivera listens to the students.
“The club is supposed to be student run. A lot of times adults will give a kid a suggestion and we just go with it. But Mrs. Rivera lets us make the decisions,” Aghakhanian said.
The members of the club also share credit of their success with their parents.
“Our parents are all so supportive,” Absy added.
The club continues to raise money to help athletes at the marathon. Anyone who would like to donate can do so by contacting Laura Rivera at Rosemont Middle School at (818) 248-4224 or email her at LRivera@gusd.net.