By Martie Thompson

The No Excuses Running Club became an official club in the middle of the pandemic last year. Founders Zeke and Jill Benavides said they basically took what they had done for middle schoolers (offered training to keep athletes’ skills up during summer break) for the previous two summers, but expand it to include more than just Fruit Cove Middle School students. Jill Benavides said they wanted to create a sense of community and also give kids a focus during COVID, when everything was newly shut down. No Excuses Running Club is open to all area students from first through eighth grades, as well as high schoolers who are not participating in summer training programs with their high schools. The program aims to increase athletes’ skills as runners, plus build endurance, speed, and agility for other sports.

“We found that many of the students said they wanted to find friends in addition to develop healthy habits and increase physical fitness in their lives,” Jill Benavides said. “COVID isolation was overwhelming for kids, but No Excuses Running Club gave them a chance to keep some things normal. As soon as the CDC said we could open up last year, we did.”

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Jill Benavides has had a lifetime love of running. Her father was a middle distance runner who ran a 4:20 mile and she ran in high school. Her favorite local race is the Gate River Run. Zeke Benavides has run a couple of marathons, but considers himself the cross training specialist for the club while Jill Benavides, also the Fruit Cove Middle School head coach for the past eight years, is the running specialist. 

Jill Benavides stressed that this summer’s program, which runs from June 11 through August 13, is not just for Fruit Cove students. This will be the first summer that they have included elementary students and so she expects the program to grow. 

“Last summer, we had 118 students in seven groups that were tailored to the athletes’ exact goals.” Jill Benavides said. “Students sign up for the whole two month period and can come and go during that time.”

The program is held at Plantation Park, Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. – 8:30 a.m. with designated group training days as well as specified training programs depending on the athlete’s goals. She said they would be offering summer program participants the opportunity to compete in several local track meets throughout the summer.

“Skills learned in the program can be used in any sport,” Jill Benavides said. “Running can help you with your other sport or it could be your passion.”

Jill Benavides, also a teacher at Fruit Cove, said she likes to incorporate character in her coaching. She and Zeke Benavides see themselves as not only coaches, but encouragers and trainers.

“I always say that runners should leave a meet better than they came,” she said. “It’s about being a better person as well as being a better runner.”

To register and receive all forms, contact

Photo courtesy Jill Benavides

Coaches Zeke and Jill Benavides in their favorite position: encouraging young runners. 

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