Luke Pometti (front, third from left in the black mask) started the COVID Running Club as a way for him and his friends to stay in shape in the absence of fall sports in the West Windsor-Plainsboro school district. Now, the club has 16 members and meets every Tuesday and Thursday for a two-mile run. (Staff photo by Sam Sciarrotta.)

COVID-19 had Community Middle School eighth grader Luke Pometti feeling claustrophobic. So he decided to get outside and do what he did best: run.

Pometti was excited to run cross country for CMS this year, until the fall sports season was cancelled in the West Windsor-Plainsboro school district due to the pandemic. He had a similar experience in the spring, when he and some of his friends tried out for the track team for the first time just before coronavirus started to spread.

“At first when I heard that it would last two weeks [in March], because that was the original message, I still thought that they would have track after that,” he said. “As it kept going on and on, I lost any hope of the track season continuing. I was disappointed, because I did well in tryouts. I had gotten a taste of the team, but not the whole experience.”

As summer started to creep in, Pometti was feeling the itch to get outside after a few months of lockdown.

He’d been running for a few years but really got into it last winter when he decided to try out for spring track. He and his running partner, Maxxe Rice, would head to the High School North track every other day for a three-mile run. He was really beginning to miss it.

“I like the feel of it,” Pometti said. “I have always loved going fast. It’s not as fun for myself when I’m running by myself, so that’s why I reached out to Maxxe. I love running no matter what, but if I got my friends involved, I thought it would be better. If I only trained on my own, it’s hard to stay motivated. When you work with others, it keeps us all accountable.”

Once the idea for the COVID Running Club came to him, he asked Rice to join and then slowly started reaching out to more friends. The list grew from there—now, 16 kids meet outside of Pometti’s house twice a week for a run.

The club gets together every Tuesday and Thursday at 3:30 p.m. They start stretching around 3:35 before heading out on a 2.25-mile run. Pometti said he tries to keep the route the same every week, and that has worked—now, everybody knows the path and how to adapt it to their needs. There are ways to make the run back shorter or longer, he said, depending on how adventurous everyone is feeling that day.

Water is waiting when they get back, and then everybody heads home. Some kids ride their bikes, and others get dropped off and picked up.

A few of the group’s members, including Pometti, also play tennis every Monday, Wednesday and Friday after school, hence the Tuesday-Thursday running schedule. If that sounds like a busy week, it is—and that’s exactly what Pometti craves.

“If I don’t have stuff to do, it’s harder for me to think of things to do,” he said. “On the weekends, if I don’t have plans, I just find myself sitting on the couch and watching TV, so I like to keep myself as busy as possible.”

And he was definitely feeling that indecision setting in at the start of the pandemic. Now, though, the daily fresh air has helped a lot. Spending time with his friends is an added bonus.

“It feels very good because at least in the beginning of spring, I was not allowed to see my friends,” he said. “Now, at least I can see them. We just have to stay distant and try to keep our space.”

Pometti said he plans to put the club on hold once the weather starts to get cold and then pick it back up in the spring.

“I figured we would stop it around Thanksgiving, if the weather holds, and possibly resume it,” he said. “I was actually hoping the club could do some virtual races together and some live races in the spring, if they come back.”

That’s kind of what Pometti is hoping the rest of the school year looks like, too. Last spring, he was elected class president, and he was looking forward to starting off the 2020-21 school year with events like the Halloween dance and winter pep rally. Those won’t happen the way he envisioned them, but he’s excited that student council will still continue, just in a different format.

“It’s very different, but I’m happy, because I feel like everyone is making the most of what they have, and now, at least, the hybrid schedule feels more like school,” he said. “I’m sad this year had to start off like it did.”

It led to the COVID Running Club, though, and Pometti is grateful for that.

“It’s very satisfying for girls and guys being social and healthy,” he said. “It’s really stuck with everybody, and everyone’s been so helpful with it. If they were any less helpful, it would’ve been much harder to schedule and get everyone to cooperate.”