Sept. 20, 2006
UI Russian Program To Run For Iowa City Schools For Seventh Year
For the seventh consecutive year, the University of Iowa Russian program will field a team for the annual Iowa City "Run For The Schools" fundraiser. Since 2000, the Russkaya Sbornaya, or "Team Russia," has participated in the 5K run/walk, held each October to benefit local K-12 schools. More than 125 faculty members, teaching assistants, students of Russian, and other friends have been involved in the event over the years.
"It's a way to have fun, promote fitness and exercise, get to know classmates and teachers outside of the classroom, and reach out to help and stay involved in the community," said Margaret Mills, professor of Russian in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Team Russia starts practicing each year well before race day, which this year will be Sunday, Oct. 15.
"We usually meet once a week starting in September to practice running the course and get ready for the big day," said Mills. "Since we welcome anyone to join Team Russia - to run or walk - we don't require previous running experience."
Running on the team doesn't require any knowledge of Russian or formal affiliation with the department. Participants only need to register and show up on race day. Being a member, or uchastnik, on Team Russia, though, offers several other opportunities, organizers said.
"It's great to get the faculty and students together to do something good for Iowa City," said graduate student and Russian instructor Stephen Grant. "A lot of departments sponsor activities outside of class, but I don't know of many that consistently fundraise for the community like this."
Participants also get a chance to practice Russian in a way that they can't while sitting in class.
"Verbs of motion are really different in Russian than they are in English - there are about 10 or more different ways to say 'to go'," said Russian program alumna Jamie Kovarna, who graduated in 2003 and is currently serving in the U.S. Air Force. "But actually running helped me get the language down, and it was a lot more fun than memorizing a verb chart."
Team Russia also exposes its members and other race participants to a lesser-known part of Russian culture.
"Fizkult, or exercise, is extremely popular in Russia," said Russian instructor Frank Swoboda. "The Olympics, international athletics, sports, and staying fit as a hobby were very big in the Soviet Union, and they remain important to Russians. Whenever my Russian friends see my 'Run for the Schools' shirt, they think it is the coolest thing."
Students and faculty each year work together to design a distinctive T-shirt - often, naturally, in Russian - that sets the team apart from the crowd on race day.
The Team Russia shirt each year incorporates some aspect of Russian culture with references to the UI Russian department or the Iowa City community. Past examples have included the Russian phrase "Vpered za nashi shkoli!" - literally, "Forward for our schools!", a phrase similar to many Soviet slogans - and have featured famous Soviet or Russian artwork, advertising, or propaganda designs.
"It's how we always start off the fall semester, and everyone looks forward to it," said Mills.
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.