SRLA Leader Ms. Chavez

My name is Desiree and I’m a leader for Los Nietos Middle School’s SRLA program. This is my 4th year as a leader, but I started off with the program 14 years ago as our school’s first chaperone. 

Our school discovered SRLA the same way I’m sure many other schools did: word of mouth. A friend of mine was a leader at Hawthorne High School and told me all about it. I mentioned it to our school counselor and my husband, the PE teacher, and 14 years later, we are still part of this amazing program.

My journey with SRLA began immediately. I knew I didn’t want to run (who’s crazy enough to run a marathon?) but I still wanted to be part of the program. I helped the leaders with practices by doing water stops and checking kids in during practices. This led to my position as chaperone during the marathon. Back before runner tracking, it was a much more stressful job! After the first year, I took time off as a chaperone to have my kids, but still helped out at practices when I could.

After 10 years of being a leader, my husband decided to step down. It took another year for me to make the commitment, but I finally decided that I could run a marathon! I mean, our school and amazing leaders had trained hundreds of middle schoolers to run, why not me?

In 2016 I became the secondary leader of Los Nietos Middle School’s SRLA program. I was terrified! I grew up hating running. In middle school and high school, the mile run was the worst day of the week for me. However, after seeing SRLA thrive at our school, my mindset on running was changing. Every year our SRLA team had its share of out of shape and overweight students start the program. And, every year, those students were transformed by SRLA. They were transformed into marathoners by March. They did something at the ages of 12-14 that most adults would never even attempt.

These students were my heroes and I wanted to be on the journey with them. So here I was, a 40 year old overweight teacher, making the commitment to train a group of middle schoolers to run a marathon.  

During my first year as a leader, everything we did was a new experience for me. The longest race I had ever done up to that point was a 10k, a race that I walked most of. During that season, I found a group of runners on our team that ran at my pace, about 13-14 minutes per mile. We ran most practices and races together. Although outsiders may see the leaders as the ones who encourage the students, in my experience, it is quite the opposite. I put myself in their shoes. I recalled how much I hated running when I was in middle school and seeing these middle schoolers putting in 20 plus miles of running every week was inspiring.

On March 19, 2017 I ran my first marathon. I was lucky enough to cross the finish line with 2 amazing student runners on our team. We encouraged and helped each other cross that finish line. It was a moment I will never forget.

Every year since then has had new experiences and accomplishments. Last year I lost 45 pounds and running became much easier for me. Every race I ran last year was a new PR. Although I was much faster, I still benefited from running with the students. I caught up with one of our students at mile 12 of the marathon and we ran the rest of it together. We talked with each other, enjoyed the sights, stopped when we saw each other’s families, and, most importantly, encouraged each other every step of the way. We broke through the wall and finished the marathon in 4:56. If someone would have told me 5 years ago that I would finish a marathon in under 5 hours with the help of a 12 year old girl, I would have laughed in their face. But here we are.

I am proud to be part of SRLA. I am amazed every year by every single student runner. This program has provided life-changing opportunities for students and adults. I am a proud recipient of these opportunities. What I have come to realize is how amazing people are. I’m not just referring to the students and leaders. We could not run this program without the help of volunteers and students’ families. SRLA has been a part of my life since 2005 and I hope it continues to be so for many years to come.

You can support Desiree, her students at Los Nietos, and at-risk students all across LA by making a contribution at