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Hundreds spend offseason working out in Raiders Express program

Meagan Friederichs, 13, spots Alyssa Van Vossen, also 13, while working on the bench press.1 / 2
Kit Ruedy, 14, leads the way in a bungee running exercize. Natalie Simons, 14, runs behind.2 / 2

For about 270 students in the Raiders Express program at Hastings High School, summer is no time for a break.

They could be out having fun with friends, earning money with a summer job or just sleeping in, but these kids get up early to make use of the school's athletic equipment and hone their physical skills.

HHS has held the Raiders Express program for more than 15 years.

"It's been a long standing program in the community I know that's been well-used," said Dana Strain, one of the program's organizers.

He and Jason Koch took over Raiders Express three years ago and have seen the program's numbers grow each year. They had about 165 their first year and 245 last year. This year's 270 is their highest number yet.

Students entering grades six through 12 can take part in the eight-week program, held this year between June 14 and Aug. 5.

"This program is designed to help the overall strength, speed and quickness for our athletes," Strain said.

Rather than focus on sport-specific exercises, Raiders Express works on total body fitness that will improve overall athletic ability.

"It's geared toward making our kids more athletic and stronger," Strain said.

That's not all the program does. The program is getting students to realize the weight room is a good place to be during the summer. It also builds up their self-esteem and confidence.

"You just feel much better about yourself when you get a workout in on a day," Strain said.

And those students who stick with the program for a few years see substantial improvements.

"They start to develop better overall body strength, get much more confidence coming into the weight room," Strain said.

There are five different levels students move through as their abilities improve, so younger students do different exercises than the older ones.

Students move through the program in groups of 25 to 45. Starting at 7 a.m., groups come into the weight room to work through the strength program. After about an hour there they spend about a half hour working on the running or speed component. High school students have three sessions each week and middle school students have two.

Athletes could work out individually at other fitness centers, but Strain recommends Raiders Express for a few reasons.

One is that the five Raiders Express coaches are all coaches and/or teachers from within the Hastings school district. Since they already work in the schools, there's no question about how they work with the students.

"When you hire teachers and coaches to do that in the summer, you know what you're going to get from them," Strain said.

It also helps students and teachers/coaches build a better rapport with each other. Coaches see how hard their athletes are working in the off-season.

"I know that my kids have done everything they can to prepare, because I've seen them in the weight room," Strain said. Strain is also the head football coach.

Another reason Strain recommends Raiders Express is because working out with one's fellow athletes can be a motivating factor.

"When you're in here with all your teammates and you know that they're going to be in there, it motivates you to get off the couch and get in the weight room at your assigned time," Strain said.

Working hard with your teammates in the off-season also builds team camaraderie that affects how they play in the regular season.

"It just makes it that much harder to quit," Strain said.