PHS Star Athlete Gives Elementary Kids a Running Start

Seahawks Junior Elektra Higgins is trying to build an interest in running for fourth and fifth graders.


It was 34 degrees at 4:15 p.m. on the activity field at Swift Water Elementary School Jan. 9. The 15-mile-per-hour winds made it feel more like 28. The rain had stopped about an hour earlier and the sun was dipping below the fir trees near the Tom Taylor YMCA.

Standing in the middle of the field wearing shorts and a t-shirt was Peninsula High School junior Elektra Higgins, barking instructions.

It is an odd choice of attire for the weather, but the perennial top-10 finisher at the cross-country state championships seemed to know what she was doing. 

That is probably why the parents of more than 20 fourth and fifth graders at Swift Water Elementary in Gig Harbor signed their kids up to learn how to run from one of the best long-distance runners in PHS history.

Higgins, along with her mom, Teasha Buckland, a fourth-grade teacher at the school, leads the Swift Water running club twice a week. “We run rain or shine,” said Higgins, a Wauna resident who finished third at the state cross-country meet in November, ninth in 2022 and seventh in 2021. Every Tuesday and Thursday the elementary schoolers spend an hour picking up the basics of running.

Higgins and Buckland volunteer their time and offer the club for free.

“Running and cardio is part of every sport, so my goal is to give these kids a good general base understanding of it,” Higgins said. “There’s a lot of negative energy around running, so if we can show them at a young age that it can be fun, I feel like they’ll want to do it more.”

To do that, Higgins and her mom spend only about 15 minutes of the hour-long session running around the track. The rest is spent playing active games and learning the important extras like stretching, staying hydrated and, especially in cold weather, keeping the muscles warm.

“(Elektra is) showcasing running in a way that’s fun and not just about winning a race,” said Nick Lascheck, who has two kids — Waylond and Daphne — in the running club.

“It’s smart how she is training these kids. It’s really thinking outside the box.”

Tyler Nugent, Higgins’ cross country and track coach at PHS, said it’s this type of effort that will ensure these kids are ready for running sports sooner. “So often by the time they arrive in middle school or high school, young athletes identify with a ball sport because they’ve been playing it since they were little,” he said. “I’m so proud of Elektra for her leadership of young runners.”

Lascheck has another daughter, Ascher, an eighth-grader at Harbor Ridge Middle School. Ascher, who is a runner, attends some of the PHS meets and regularly eyeballs some of the school records Higgins has at the middle school. Lascheck is excited Ascher will get the opportunity to run alongside Higgins next year when Ascher is a freshman and Higgins is a senior. “I hope having Ascher see someone who is older and volunteering will encourage her to try to help out.”

Buckland agreed. “It would be amazing if we could have other high school volunteers teach the sports they love at elementary schools,” he said. “Can you imagine all the amazing clubs we’d have? It would take a lot of teenagers to make that happen.”

Buckland gives all the credit for the successful club to her daughter. She is just there for “classroom management” but Higgins leads all the instructions. “Sometimes I’ll translate what Elektra says into words kids can understand,” Buckland said.

Right now she is just enjoying watching Higgins develop into a leadership role. “It’s fun to see how excited the kids get learning from her,” Buckland said. “Regardless of her accomplishments, they know she is a teenager and in high school and they find that just awesome.”

Michelle Clemens got her son, Camden, involved in the running club after she saw an email from Buckland. “He is at an age where competition is starting to be important and he’s learning how to run correctly from someone who is at the top of the sport.”

Clemens said she can already tell that Camden’s posture and running form have improved from the running club. “And he sleeps a lot better after running around for an hour.”

Their third six-week session wrapped up in February and Higgins and Buckland may try for another before the school year ends. But for now, Higgins is turning her attention to the track where she runs in the 1,600 and 3,200 meter races, as well as the 4-by-400 meter race. Even though she had a successful season on the cross-country course earlier in the school year, Higgins’ sophomore track season was hampered by an iron deficiency.

The boys and girls track season kicks off Thursday, March 14 with the Peninsula Jamboree. They host Central Kitsap on Friday, March 22. The state championships are the last weekend in May.