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L.A. Marathon helps Banning senior run to success

By Nick Green Staff Writer

Posted: 05/24/2009 10:26:04 PM PDT

Brittany Layton and other members of Students Run L.A. carb up for today's marathon. (Sean Hiller Staff Photographer)Four years ago, Banning High School senior Brittany Layton was angry and running away from life. Her father was in prison. She was doing drugs. Along with her mother and four siblings, she was living in homeless shelters. And suffering with attention deficit disorder, Layton attempted suicide by overdosing on anti-depressant medication. "I was at the worst time of my life," she recalled. "My family was against me. My friends back-stabbed me. I was hanging around with the wrong people, getting in bad situations and getting suspended (from school) a lot." Then substitute teacher Joe Mendoza entered her life one day as she started high school. He showed Layton's class a video dubbed "Survivor: Banning Edition." "The way he interacts with the students - I thought it was funny," she said. "I thought, this is a cool guy. I know I would be able to trust him." Mendoza was also a coordinator with nonprofit group Students Run L.A., which this year is marking its 20th anniversary. The organization trains at-risk youth to run the L.A. Marathon, which will be held today. "We have about 3,000 kids running this year and (Torrance-based) American Honda is one of our big supporters," Mendoza said, adding that 39 students from Banning are participating this year. "They've all run at least 400 miles each and they've been training at least three days a week since September." Today, Layton will run her fourth L.A. marathon. Her goal is to beat the school record of 4hours and 40 minutes. That will be tough. Her best time was her first marathon when she ran the 26.2 miles in five hours and 11 minutes. But Layton doesn't see the record as insurmountable. Why would she, considering where she was four years ago? "(Running) helped me get into other activities," she said. "It gave me the confidence because if I could do a marathon, I could do all this other stuff." Like being president of the school's women's choir. Joining the track team. Acting in a school production of "Guys and Dolls." And improving her grades from D's and fails, to B's and C's. Layton's level of success is atypical, but not unusual, Mendoza said. Of the 35,000 students who have gone through the program in the last two decades, about 98 percent finish the race. More importantly, more than 95 percent of them graduate from high school. Layton, he said, could be a poster child for the program. He recalled recently that a burly football player watched Layton admiringly as she practiced track. "He turned to me and said, `That's the leader of our school,"' Mendoza remembered. "She really needed something to give her life direction - more than most kids - and she's really used it to set goals." Like studying economics and history in college after she graduates in June. Like moving to Japan, where she hopes to learn the language and teach English. Layton, who said she was once "loud and annoying" in class and running away from her world, is now running to embrace it. The "painful" life she once saw as "depressing and dark" now holds promise. "I see Students Run L.A. as my dad," Layton said. "It cares for me, it treats me as if I were its daughter. I have a father figure in my life." And a race to run. For more information about Students Run L.A. see srla.org. nick.green@dailybreeze.com

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