Running a five-mile trail around Miami Beach was not enough of a challenge for cross country team captain Gabriel Rosenberg. The high school senior, a student at Rabbi Alexander S. Gross Hebrew Academy in Miami Beach, wore five-pound ankle weights to push himself harder.
“It was not only to enhance my work out but to show [my teammates] that if your captain can do this five-mile run with ankles weights, then you guys should have no problem in finishing,” Gabriel said.
He is a member of the Hebrew Academy’s inaugural cross country team. The school fielded two teams, one for boys and one for girls. About 30 students from the middle and high school joined the teams.
While the teams didn’t advance to the regional or state level, they each finished ninth out of 13th at the recent district finals.
“We always had a full squad and virtually no injuries,’’ said head coach Bryan Huberty. “Hopefully, we will be competing at state in the next few years.’’
The idea of the starting the team came from a parent, Steven Gottlieb, a volunteer coach. Due to the school’s small size, there were limited opportunities for students to get involved with a team sport. Cross country is a non-cut sport, although schools get points only for their top performers in a meet.
“We want to offer students the benefits of being part of a team,” said Gottlieb, the owner of West Broward Rehabilitation and Healthcare nursing home in Plantation.
Gottlieb is the father of three students at the school: Avi, 14; Abigail, 10 and Isaac, 5. Avi has improved his running time by four minutes since the start of the season. Abigail will join the team next year when she is in the sixth grade.
Gottlieb recruited Huberty, a former college soccer player, marathon runnner and race director for LiveUltimateRun.com., which runs a marathon on South Beach.
“We want to make sure we keep it fun,” said Huberty, 33.
Huberty enlisted Mark Gomes, 41, as his assistant coach. Gomes place first in the 800 meter run at the 2011USA Masters Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
“We focus on stamina, strengthening and speed development,” Gomes said.
Gabriel, the boys team captain and a member of the school’s basketball team, said he enjoyed rallying his fellow teammates to push themselves.
“I give them positive reinforcement so they feel good about themselves during and after,” he said.
He said the team’s spirit got the parents excited; they brought refreshments to practices and to the meets.
Mariah Lamm, the girls team captain, said she liked how the sport encouraged her and her teammates to stay fit.
“It’s really good. I’ve gotten into such great shape from it,” said Mariah, who had never competed before.
She particularly enjoyed the last part of the race.
“The very end when you are head-to-head with another person and you have to out kick them is intense,” said Mariah, a junior.
Gabriel said the athletes developed confidence, which can be applied to many life’s lessons.
“Confidence is a major issue with a lot of teenagers and if they just had someone to believe in them, then they could see a tremendous improvement in their performances,” he said. “It starts with athletics. If you’re confident about one thing, it can open the door to a million other things you’re confident in.”