Nyla Evans, a student who attends Irving Magnet School in the Glassell Park area, was preparing for her first 26.2-mile L.A. Marathon at just thirteen this last week.

Evans—who started running during the pandemic to help manage her anxiety—is still new to the activity, which she began when schools resorted to using online education to help minimize risk for students.

The thirteen-year-old stated that running is a stress reliever and that she made new friends while doing it. Some of these friends joined Evans during the L.A. Marathon, and they all participated in an organization called Students Run L.A., which began in 1986 when a schoolteacher challenged his students at a continuation school in Boyle Heights to help him train for a marathon.

Evans credited her coaches and friends for helping to keep her motivated while she worked on improving her skills and stamina. She claimed she “couldn’t have done it” without her team.

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Evans’ mother, Johanna Voutounou, stated that her daughter started to walk at just seven months and has noted significant, positive changes that running has made in her daughter’s overall mental health. “It was a struggle,” she said.

Thankfully, Nyla Evans found friends and “came alive” because of their companionship.

The thirteen-year-old runner hopes she can inspire others to take up the activity as a way to deal with their anxieties and other mental health issues. She also had personal goals for finishing her first marathon, which she said she wanted to complete in about five-and-a-half to six hours. As it was her first run, she wanted to “take in the whole city.”

Regardless of whatever time she made in the marathon, her mom is overjoyed with the discipline Nyla has shown over the past several years. William, Nyla’s father, says that the dedication she’s shown is “remarkable and that he is “just so proud.”

Students Run L.A., the program that has helped encourage Nyla and her friends to run in the marathon, serves more than 3,200 underserved middle and high school students at 185 public schools and community programs across the Greater Los Angeles area. The program, which inspires children to train alongside their adult mentors, helps organize, transport, and pay for participants to enter six community races of longer distances, building up from a 5K to a 30K race.

Each Spring, SRLA makes a limited number of $500 scholarships payable directly to a school of enrollment for post-secondary education, two or four-year colleges, trade schools, or exemplary art programs. In 2019, SRLA partnered with American Honda to introduce the Honda Power of Dreams Scholarship Program. Receipts of this scholarship receive a $1000 payable over two years for their education and commit to participating in SRLA events to help mentor the next generation of student runners.

For children like Nyla Evans, running and sports have always been ways to reduce stress while maintaining an active lifestyle. Combined with a partnership with the Students Run L.A. program, students can make great strides in their personal and athletic lives while helping prepare themselves for the future.