Thousands of feet bring $1 million blessings

February 27, 2018

More than 12,000 registered for the Steps for Students 5K Run and Walk in downtown Houston on Feb. 17. The 13th annual race raised more than $1 million to benefit Catholic education in the Archdiocese. Photo by James Ramos/Herald.

HOUSTON — Mickey Rucinski, pushing her seven-year-old grandson Wyatt in a wheelchair, kept up with her other grandson Jordan, a fourth grader at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School in Texas City, as he zipped through the crowd of 12,000-plus supporters of the 13th annual Steps for Students 5K in the streets of downtown Houston.

Standing outside the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart Feb. 17, she said, “We’re here to support Catholic schools. Jordan went to public schools before and now we can tell a difference with his manners and politeness.”

Sharing the excitement of race day, Irazema Ortiz, principal at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic School, prayed with a large group of her students and parents at the Catholic School Village, a tailgating party of tents set up across the street from the Co-Cathedral.

“We cooked up our pancake breakfasts and shared them with anyone who wanted some. We have 100 percent participation of our faculty and staff and more than 200 students and family members registered to run,” Ortiz said.

“Steps for Students is so important to our schools. We bought new math and reading books, and our teachers attended professional development with last year’s funds. Now it’s time to start replacing our smart boards,” she said.
A graduate of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Diana Hernandez, along with her father Margil Hernandez, said she wanted to come and support the school because “they’re still in my heart.”

Photos: Scenes from Steps for Students

Father Preston Quintela of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in northwest Harris County and Father Clint Ressler of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in Texas City broadcast their enthusiasm downtown, being interviewed by Guadalupe Radio, KSHJ 1430 AM, airing live at Steps for Students, joined by KSBJ radio, 89.3 FM.

After a 6:30 a.m. sunrise Mass, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo blessed the runners who came from schools and parishes spread across the 10 counties of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. He thanked them for the many reasons they run, but especially for “deepening your love for our Catholic schools.”

Then, with the ringing of the Co-Cathedral bells, a pistol shot by former U.S. Olympian bobsledder Scott Muckelroy, who now teaches at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School, and a confetti launch, the runners blasted off like speeding traffic on a Houston freeway.

The participation of these supporters raises awareness of the value of Catholic education, assists schools with needed improvements and supports the Archdiocesan Tuition Assistance Program, which makes private education affordable for families needing assistance.

The 5K was presented by Román and Cecilia Martínez Memorial and Yellow Cab. Chairs Diana Dávila Martínez and Román Martínez, heading up the 5K for the past eight years, have grown the fundraiser to the largest Archdiocesan event and helped raise $1 million for each of the past three years.

“Steps for Students allows Diana and me to thank God for the wonderful blessings in our lives — blessings that would never have been possible if I had not had the opportunity to receive a Catholic education,” said Román Martínez.

He added, “Tuition assistance helped me get a Catholic education. This event makes it financially possible for a great number of children to attend a Catholic school and reap the benefits of a faith-based education.”

Diana Dávila Martínez told the Houston Chronicle, “It is that one day a year that we celebrate being part of something bigger than only your school and community. Steps is now the largest school-based 5K run in the country.”

Catholic Schools Superintendent Debra Haney smiled broadly and waved to the thousands of runners as they jogged by the stage.

“It was a sight to see! Thousands of people waving, cheering and excited to be at the event raising money for our Catholic schools,” she said. “It is a unique opportunity to see all of our schools in one place, at one time with the Cardinal, priests, deacons, administrators, Archdiocesan leadership, teachers, and sponsors... all for a common purpose — to support our Catholic schools.”

Though states apart, sisters run as one

HOUSTON — Making her way downtown for the Steps for Students race, Melissa Kidonakis started running. A thousand miles away, her sister Cimela did the same.

For the last six years, the two have run the annual race together as a sibling tradition and to support Catholic education. But this year, with Cimela in Florida away on work, the pair would have to run separately.

Days before the race, Melissa, who is a parishioner at St. Michael Catholic Church in Houston, asked her sister to run a 5K at the same time she’d run at Steps for Students. After Melissa finished, she FaceTimed Cimela, who also ended her run, so they could both tour the bustling Catholic School Village together.

While they didn’t attend Catholic schools growing up, they both attended the University of St. Thomas and saw the “undeniable value” of a Catholic education. By running in Steps for Students, they could have fun and also ensure its future.

“We love seeing families out there running together, the clergy and religious running, seeing all of our Catholic school teacher friends in the village and seeing our fellow ... parishoners,” Melissa said. “That’s why this year, when Cimela couldn’t be there, I immediately FaceTimed her post-race and walked her through the village. We even had a guest appearance by Father Preston [Quintela] in our FaceTime.”

ABC 13-KTRK meteorologist Tim Heller emceed the event with umbrella on hand, but was glad the rain held off, with only a few sprinkles during the unusually warm February morning.

The winning racers, known as the Howie Ryan top male and female finishers in this U.S. Track and Field sanctioned and certified race, were 16-year-old Will Botard of Strake Jesuit College Preparatory at 17:21 and Heidi Zimmerman Mulroony, counselor at St. John XXIII College Preparatory, with 18:40. Awards were also given out by Auxiliary Bishop George A. Sheltz and Superintendent Haney to runners in varying age groups.

The David K. Guite Spirit Award was given to the Corpus Christi Catholic School, located in southwest Houston. The award, named after a principal and a founding member of the Steps for Students steering committee, goes to the Catholic school team that best demonstrated the spirit of participation, creativity and enthusiasm through their team efforts.

Teresa Ryan, a registered nurse, came along with her daughter Virginia Martinez, also a nurse, and two grandchildren, kindergartner Dominic and third-grader Cassandra of St. Christopher Catholic School in southeast Houston, ready to run the race.

“I attended Mount Carmel and so did my daughter and now her children are going to Catholic school. We’re proud to be a legacy Catholic school family,” Ryan said.

The legacy of Steps for Students is scheduled to continue next year on Feb. 16, 2019.