Block Yeshiva runners look forward to next year

Block Yeshiva runners look forward to next year


Even in the off-season, the girls of the new running team at Block Yeshiva High School can’t help but smile when they talk about the sport, or their new coach, Kate Friedman, whom they address affectionately as “Coach Kate.”

Perhaps one reason for the warm feelings is the fact that the girls are members of the school’s first running team, which started this semester at the school, and they’ve made it through their first season intact.

“It was our first year, and most of these girls had never run competitively before, and it is a pretty intimidating thing to go out there and put your toe to the line,” said Friedman, “but they did it and now we’re moving forward to next year.”

Friedman, who ran cross country during high school in Beaverton, Ore. and at Brandeis University, applied for jobs in Jewish education while studying in Jerusalem.

The director of athletics at Block Yeshiva asked Friedman if she would be interested in coaching cross-country. “Immediately,” Friedman recalled, “I said ‘yes.'”

“For a few years before I came along, there had always been some Block girls who really wanted a running team and a coach. Now the school has found a way to meet their desires for that,” she said.

During the summer, Friedman sent out a pamphlet about the new team to the 37 girls at the school, and built a team that fluctuated with between 5-10 girls throughout the season.

“For such small school, and since there’s another fall sport, the response was great,” Friedman said.

For Davita Wachsstock, a freshman, and her sister Leia, a sophomore, the pamphlet piqued their interest.

“It seemed really intriguing,” Davita said. “I’d never been on a real team for cross country before, so I thought it would be really cool.”

“Davita was always the runner,” her sister Leia said. “I only started running a couple of years ago, but I thought it would be fun, and a good way to get physically fit.”

The coach started the team out with the basics: stretching, warming up and building up the girls endurance for progressively longer runs.

“It’s a tough sport physically, but it’s also a tough sport mentally,” she said. “I had to talk to the girls about pushing our personal limits. One of the challenges of coaching new runners is finding the right balance between pushing them and encouraging them and letting them find that themselves.”

As the team members pushed themselves to longer and longer distances (up to 4-5 miles each practice by the end of the season), the girls found out they could push themselves to run further, even though starting such a long run continued to be intimidating.

“Before you start there’s just this dread,” Davita said. “You know that you’re going to be running for, like, five miles and you have no idea how you’re supposed to do that. But once you go, you just go, and you try not to think about it.”

Dodi Smason, a sophomore, said while she is running, there’s one thing that keeps popping up.

“The whole time I’m thinking that I want to quit. Then while I’m running, I always tell myself to keep going and at the end it’ll be worth it. And it always is,” she said.

“I don’t really think about stopping,” said Sophia Rifkin, a sophomore.

“Running is very calming, very peaceful. It gives me a chance to think about whatever is on my mind,” she said.

For Davita, one thought persistently comes up: chocolate doughnuts.

“For some reason every time, running makes me hungry for chocolate doughnuts,” she said. However, she added that despite her craving, after she runs, she rarely feels like indulging in junk food.

“Actually, it motivates you to eat healthy,” Davita said. “I’ve already done all of that running, so I might as well have a piece of fruit instead.”

So, what does Coach Kate say to keep the girls going?

“I tell the girls that running gets you there faster. You’re tired and you’d like to stop but you’re a few miles away from home, and running gets you there faster,” Friedman said.

For the inaugural year of the team, Friedman said the team eased into competitive racing slowly, taking in part in one community race during the season, the 2.2 mile Glendale Firehouse Run in late October.

“Everybody finished, and that’s quite an accomplishment because it’s so taxing on your body and your mind,” Friedman said.

However, Davita and Leia not only finished, they both placed in the top five for their division, with Davita coming in only a couple of seconds before her sister. With the season over and a strong performance in her first race, Leia said joining the team has helped her not only physically, but also academically.

“Last year I wasn’t on a sports team and I would come home from school and I’d just be exhausted,” she said. “I didn’t have any exercise at all so I would come home to do homework and it was a lot harder to concentrate. So now I would get out the extra energy and I actually found it easier. It really helped me focus.”

With a team largely comprising underclassmen, Friedman is planning to move from this “building year” to a second season with competitive races against other high schools, and also starting a track team in the spring.

“Now the school has been initiated,” Friedman said, “and we have girls who have tried it out, and who have really made a lot of progress in their ability to run. I think we’re all looking forward to next season.”