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Running With Purpose — How Luis Villar Inspires Students In and Out of the Classroom

Luis Villar and one of his students smiling next to each other, holding up their race medals
Luis Villar (right) with one of his students

Luis Villar believes that running isn't just a physical activity; it is a form of therapy, a way to cope with life's challenges.  He was looking for a way to use his journey as a runner to empower and uplift the high school students he works with and believes in the power of running to change lives because it has so visibly changed his own. So, when he saw a group of students interested in running, he didn't hesitate to act. 

Luis Villar, a Change Inc. Community Cultural Specialist at Highland Park Senior High, truly loves his job and his students. Through his infectious enthusiasm, Luis ignited a spark of interest in running among the students. “Every time I'm going through hard times, I go for a run. And that usually helps me a lot. I like the outdoors and I think the best way to help students is when you are having a good time, when you enjoy what you do,” said Luis. 

He reached out to Twin Cities in Motion, a local non-profit organization that supports a community that engages each other through movement. Twin Cities in Motion believes that experience-level, access, ability, or financial status shouldn’t be barriers to a movement journey.  

Through the Twin Cities in Motion initiative, Luis’ students received free race registrations and gift certificates for pairs of quality running shoes. Luis didn't stop there; he guided them through their training, organizing training runs at Phalen Lake and instilling in them the discipline and joy of running. 

With dedication and encouragement, Luis led his group of students through about four weeks of preparation for the Hot Dash 10K in Minneapolis. Despite initial doubts and challenges, nine students showed up on race day, their determination overshadowing any apprehensions. Undeterred by the initial chill of the morning, their spirits were high as the students embarked on their first race, with Luis by their side. For Luis, seeing his students cross the finish line was a moment of immense pride and joy. 

Angel, a student who ran with Luis, says “My peers and teachers inspired me to do this race. I thought that if my friends could do it without any hesitation then so could I. The best part was realizing how tough you have to be to run long distance.” 

The best part of the race was me thinking about my life throughout the whole run, I felt like a different person by the end of it,” said student, Ricky.  

Daniel, a Senior at Highland Park High School, said “The best part was probably running all those kilometers, and even though it was hard throughout, crossing the finish line gave a sense of accomplishment and happiness, I am proud of myself.” 

But Luis' work didn't end there. He sees running as a gateway to greater opportunities, not just for physical health but also for personal growth. When his students came to him in the following weeks at school wanting to run another race, he encouraged the students to aim higher, setting their sights on the Get in Gear half marathon this spring and even the possibility of running the prestigious Twin Cities Marathon in the fall. 

Inspired by his students’ newfound excitement, he extended an invitation for future learning opportunities, including the possibility of a camping trip up north—a chance for these students, many of whom are children of Hispanic immigrants and have never ventured beyond the Twin Cities, to explore the beauty of Minnesota's wilderness. He believes that, like running, being in nature can positively impact one’s mental health and wellness.   

 Luis Villar with two of his students after their race, holding up medals
Luis Villar (right) with two of his students after their race

“I think it's good for them, since they're graduating soon, to get into good habits and hopefully when they go to university they continue running and doing something fun. My hope is that at least one of them would run Twin Cities Marathon in October,” said Luis. “It's something that I want everybody to experience, and I know it's not for everyone, but I my hope is one of them runs it with me because I am going to run it again.” 

Change Inc. believes that relationships are the key to change. Through his commitment to youth, Luis isn't just teaching these students to run; he is teaching them to believe in themselves, to push past their limitations, and to grow so that they may reach their full potential. 

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