MONROE – About 150 students from Monroe Middle School ran at the fifth annual Follow Your Heart 5K on March 30 in honor of 13-year-old classmate Carlos Rodriguez.
Rodriguez’s family reported him missing on the night of March 5. His body was found hours later on the railroad tracks along Walkup Avenue. Authorities said Rodriguez was struck and killed by a passing train.
Odair Aguilar was friends with Rodriguez’s sister and would speak with him on occasion. Aguilar said he and his classmates ran for Rodriguez to help his family and to also make his memory a positive one.
“We wanted to clear our heads. He was a special kid with a big heart,” Aguilar said. “I was getting tired [during the race] I had to remember that I was doing it for a good cause and I asked myself, ‘Why would I stop now when I’m almost finished?’ and I had to tell myself I was doing it for him.”
Aguilar finished third in the 5K.
The Follow Your Heart 5K was started by Hearts For Monroe, a collaboration of nonprofits, schools, churches and businesses to address issues such as hunger, homelessness, education and community relationships.
School Counselor Jennifer Lodge said this isn’t the first time Monroe Middle participated in this 5K especially because of the support Hearts 4 Monroe provides the school. But the participation this year grew tremendously.
Last year, only 35 to 40 people from the school participated in the race. The number of participants increased because students and teachers wanted to channel their grief into something positive.
Hearts 4 Monroe is in nine Title 1 schools, in which 40 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch.
“We try to think about how we can evolve those students and how we can give back,” said Ginger Walle, executive director of Hearts 4 Monroe. “We go into the schools and invite any Title I student who wants to be sponsored to come out and be part of this race to feel the accomplishment of finishing a race.”
The school gave the students blue T-shirts that said #runningforrodriguez. Students were so proud of themselves, Lodge said, that they wore the T-shirts to school the following Monday and proudly presented their medals.
“We had a huge revelation that we could use this for something positive after this tragedy happened,” Lodge said. “The 5K allowed students to run for Carlos and support one another – to tell each other to keep going and not to give up.”