Flagstaff has long been a favorite destination for world-class athletes seeking a site for high-altitude training. These professionals may soon have hometown competitors thanks to Northern Arizona University Track and Field, which is inspiring local students to “Train Like an Olympian.”

In partnership with Puente de Hozho Elementary School, NAU Track and Field is in the midst of a five-week training program for bilingual youth. The running series includes one-hour practice sessions inside the Skydome where coach Eric Heins, director of Track and Field, and associate head coach Oscar Duncan lead students in various aspects of running. Puente students also have the opportunity to train alongside current student-athletes, including senior Diego Estrada, who ran for Mexico in the 2012 London Olympics.

“It’s great for the kids to see someone like Diego who competed at the Olympics and is a bilingual athlete himself,” Duncan said. “When the kids see him and hear him speak Spanish, their faces light up. They think, ‘Hey if he can do that, I can too.’”

The love of running and quality programming is what led Aaron Secakuku, NAU ’98, to sign up his 10-year-old daughter Johana for the program. “Running is part of my family’s Navajo and Hopi culture. It’s also a great opportunity for the kids to meet university athletes and to be exposed to instruction of this caliber and the work ethic that comes with it.”

On Wednesday, 35 eager students laced up their shoes and tackled speed intervals, the focus of the day. Back at school, students continue training with Rose Marron, Puente’s physical education teacher, and keep track of activity with daily logs.

Secakuku has seen a difference in Johana since the first session. “When we got home the other day she put on her running clothes and asked to run. Even though it was near sundown I said yes and watched her as she went through the neighborhood and logged her miles.”

Coach Duncan grins at stories retold by parents and is enthused by the response from kids and parents alike. He hopes to expand the program into a year-round activity and to continue to support health and wellness in the community.

Train Like an Olympian caps off with Puente de Hozho’s annual Jog-a-thon on April 12 during which students run or walk for 30 consecutive minutes to help raise money for their school.

Practice sessions continue at 4 p.m. March 27, April 4 and April 20 inside the Skydome.