I have been writing about what sports can do for academics and, in particular, the extra academic premium from endurance sports. This post describes one such athletic event that took place in a difficult educational and physical environment: Bolivia’s El Alto 11K, a running race sponsored by BancoSol, on 11 September 2011.
Behind the El Alto 11K is the idea that athletics – and the solidarity and commitment it entails – will get youth to excel. Eleven kilometers translates into almost 7 miles, a distance for which prior training is highly advisable. The fact that El Alto is 4,100 meters above sea level – some 13,000 feet – adds to the necessity of training. This elevation is high, and the air is thin, even by Bolivian standards.
Yet, El Alto doesn’t offer the best conditions for running or training. In fact, both could be considered a luxury. Bordering La Paz, El Alto has more than a million inhabitants and is the largest city in Bolivia. By some estimates, about three-quarters of El Alto’s population, the majority of which is indigenous, is poor, and about 59,000 families do not have access to adequate basic services, including education, health, housing and potable water.
But that hasn’t stopped them from running.
The event drew more than 12,000 participants. The overwhelming majority of these were students, who came, by bus or by foot, from schools throughout El Alto.
They proudly showed their school colors while running in teams of two or more throughout the race. Some stopping and going, with lightening fast paces for a few hundred meters, then walking; others slowly and steadily running towards the end-goal.
Families were present to provide support, moral and otherwise.
All in all, about 9,400 youth (aged 13-19), and 117 schools (114 from El Alto and 3 from La Paz) participated. The winning times were impressive: at 13,000 feet, the fastest boy completed the course in 38’ 44”, with the fastest girl coming in at 43’ 50”. Almost everyone crossed the finish line, perhaps exhausted, but with a boost of self confidence that comes from hard work and perseverance. And ready for next year’s race and another year of school.
The success of this event provides proof that, even when resources are scarce, schools can use endurance sports to motivate students to push their limits and reach new goals.
Photos by Christopher Clarke