LAPD’s running club for students 12-18 is helping make lives better

Students Run LA members pose for a photo with their L.A. Marathon medals.
Students Run LA members pose for a photo with their Los Angeles Marathon medals on April 9. The running program is part of the LAPD’s Police Activities League.
(Luca Evans / For The Times)

Carolina Baiza brought her tennis shoes, just in case.

As fate would have it, her daughter Andrea was laboring. In the last stretch of a 26.2-mile trek in March’s Los Angeles Marathon, Andrea called her mother, despondent.

“Mom, I can’t do this,” Baiza remembers her daughter saying. “This is too hard for me. My body’s hurting. The sun is so bad.”

So Baiza laced up her shoes and joined the fray, running alongside Andrea for the last few miles.


After moving to the Los Angeles area from Mexico City in 2015, Baiza and her family had to start from scratch. Son Alejandro had to find new passions. Andrea, then in third grade, wasn’t able to speak much English.

After discovering the Hollywood Police Activities League (PAL), Alejandro and Andrea became involved with its branch of Students Run LA (SRLA), a nonprofit dedicated to helping kids run the L.A. Marathon. At a time when “it was just us,” Baiza said of her family, the program helped her children — and others involved — feel at home.

“These kids are getting the opportunity to see life in a different scenario,” Baiza said.

Most of the kids involved with the Hollywood PAL, which is run by the Los Angeles Police Department, grow up in lower-income households, said program director Cynthia Ayala, on streets influenced by drugs and gang violence.

“Once they get home from school,” Ayala said, “we’d rather have them doing any of our programs as opposed to being out on the streets.”

One of those programs partners with nonprofit Students Run LA to sign up students aged 12-18 for the L.A. Marathon, holding weekly training to prepare for the event.

Fifteen-year-old Miguel Pinedo, who’s grown up in West Hollywood and Glendale, said his parents involved him with Hollywood PAL to steer him away from the influences Ayala mentioned. This last year was his first time attempting the marathon after a virtual run in 2021.


“I can’t express how much happiness I had during the run,” PinedoMiguel said, placing a hand on his head with a smile.

His 12-year-old sister Yaritssa, determined to outrun her older brother, joined Hollywood PAL this past year. During the marathon, her foot cramped. So she hopped on one leg for an hour and a half.

A flamingo prancing her way across the finish line, she became one of 14 signed up in 2022 who completed the race in less than eight hours.

“I felt like I was going to fall face-flat into the ground,” Yaritssa said with a toothy grin.

The goal of the program isn’t just to finish, though, Ayala said. It’s to give the kids confidence for years into the future.


“I felt like nothing is impossible,” said Miguel, who attends Anderson Clark Magnet High in Glendale.

One day when Alejandro was little, Baiza zipped through a Mexico City intersection, too busy trying to knock some sense into his 5-year-old brain to notice the light had turned red.

A policeman pulled them over. Baiza apologized, and asked for her ticket. He told her it could be handled in a different way. She continued asking for her ticket. He told her to give him a bribe, or she’d be brought down to the police station.

“I had to give him money to set me free,” Baiza said.

Baiza and her family see law enforcement in a new light in the United States, even as police violence has become an increasingly prevalent topic. The LAPD assigns officers to specific PAL programs, many of whom kids credit as mentors, and Ayala said the program tries to serve as a model for positive relationships between police and the communities.

“A lot of us want to show that we are here to serve and do our part in society,” said Officer Taybren Lee, who’s helped with SRLA for three years.

Ayala handed out medals to some of the finishers at a picnic in Griffith Park on April 9. After the group gathered for a moment, she acknowledged Alejandro in front of the group, announcing that he was headed to the University of Alabama on a full-ride scholarship.


Parents and runners broke into applause as Alejandro looked on with a sheepish grin.

“When I came here, I knew that my parents did not have the money for college … having this opportunity to study in the States was a bigger opportunity,” said Alejandro, who attends Simi Valley Royal High. “I didn’t want to throw that away.”

Lee worked with him to decide his college major, finance, and Alejandro hopes to become a lawyer in part because of his interactions with the officers.

“They’re not here as enemies,” Alejandro said to the group. “They’re here to help us.”

At first, unsure how to conjugate English, Andrea was so shy that she had trouble introducing herself to her classes.

As time went on and she got involved with PAL, she felt more comfortable, she said. Meanwhile, her family — her brother, dad and Baiza — grew closer.

“It was only us,” Baiza said.

Baiza started bringing her tennis shoes to the marathon three years ago, when Andrea ran her first. Watching her daughter cross the finish line, the mother said, she was “speechless.”

“This is one of the most valuable gifts that life has given to me,” Baiza said.

Inevitably, with a half mile to go, Baiza must stop running with Andrea. She doesn’t have a race number; her daughter does. Baiza couldn’t cross the finish line.


So she had to step back, letting Andrea finish on her own.