Mandalay Milers run past Hollywood, aim at new target

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When the students at Mandalay Elementary School started running last fall, they expected to arrive in Hollywood by mid-spring. But they took on the project with such commitment and covered the 2,830 miles so quickly, that by mid-December they had already reached their destination, averaging a cumulative 1,000 miles per month. So they took a vote and decided to run a further 2,700 miles — to Hawaii.

Currently, teacher Robyn Pastuch’s Kindergarten through fifth-grade classes are skimming the surface of the Pacific Ocean with a scant 700 miles remaining as they close in on their Honolulu destination. So far, they have traversed a total of more than 4.200 miles.

By now, a half-dozen students have even completed marathons, including Lily Amato, Thomas Nappi and Sami Shaikh. Another marathoner, Frankie Lobello, has added more than 400 miles to the group’s total, accumulating three chains of “toe tokens” — plastic foot-shaped charms, each of which represents five miles. And many of the students proudly displayed the Fitbit fitness trackers that the Wantagh School District provided.

Students’ reasons for running sounded like variations on a theme. “It gives me a lot of energy,” Sarah Minogue said, adding that she likes to run with her mother or her older sister, Brook. First-grader William Leimone runs with his sister, third-grader Alexia, and his brother A.J., who is in Kindergarten, he said.

Devin Paccione, who prefers to run by himself, said running “gets me warmed up.” Distance runner Sami Shaikh, who ran his first marathon last fall with his parents, said running “is something you can do anywhere.” And marathoner Amato said she likes “getting sweaty.”

Pastuch, 32, is especially encouraged by her students’ enthusiasm. “The last school where I tried this, it took the whole year, and we almost didn’t make it,” she said, referring to her students’ cross-country run at Hewlett High School.

Pastuch expects her classes to reach their cumulative goal in less than a month, and plans a celebration to mark the occasion. “We’ll have a big party,” she said — with leis and maybe watermelons or pineapples.

 “These are great kids,” Pastuch said of her classes.

Pastuch has spearheaded a number of sports units, including football and soccer. “They’re learned how to make their on pay books,” she said, “and even call plays fro within the huddle.

“One of the things we’re trying to teach them is how to deal with winning and losing,” Pastuch said. She stresses teamwork in all her gym activities, but points out that “wining and losing are part of everyday life.”