Manhattan teacher inspires youth ahead of United Airlines NYC Half Marathon

MANHATTAN, New York City (WABC) -- As Vanessa Diservio prepares for the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon, she's not only running for herself -- but also to set an example for her students.

The physical education teacher at New York City's Hudson High School was instrumental in introducing the Rising New York Road Runners program to her students just over two years ago, and since then, she's seen the program -- and the teens -- flourish.

"It's been contagious," she said. "Students from all grades, all backgrounds, doesn't matter. They all just want to come out and run."

And her work ethic has rubbed off on her students.

"This program, it pushes me because I think about the people here that are trying really hard," Rising NYRR member Vivily Hailey said. "And my teacher herself, she works a lot for this program. And I feel like I owe that to all these people that care so much to give my all as much as I do."

It's also helping some students come out of their shells.

"I was a little shy, but now I feel like I fit in, like I finally found where I fit in," Brandon Francis said. "And it's exercising. I like exercising, so it's the best of both worlds."

Diservio noticed the impact.

"His confidence level is through the roof," she said. "He's engaged in classes. He feels more comfortable to contribute in other classes besides phys ed. He's made friends."

Diservio is being joined on the half-marathon course by one of her students. Adama Samake is running the 13.1-miles race for the first time, thanks to her support, advice and encouragement.

"She'll sometimes tell me, 'Oh, you can do anything if you put your mind to it,'" he said. "So it was always like, that moment, every time I'm about to race, I think about it. Like, 'Oh, you can do it. You can do it.' I just put everything out of my mind and just push through it."

Diservio is proud of his progress.

"He was like, 'I don't know, I don't know,'" she said. "And I said, 'There's no reason why you can't. Give me one reason why you can't do it.' And he said, 'the money.' And I said, 'We'll take care of that.' 'Sneakers.' 'We'll take car of that for you.' And once he said yes, he's dedicated his free time, his weekends, his early mornings, to running and training."

The two will begin the half together, and Diservio said she'll try to keep up with him for as long as she can -- as both are hoping to motivate others.

"I'm trying to inspire the kids that are my age or younger to get running," he said. "Especially with the New York Road Runners."

And the long term inspiration could change lives.

"I think that if they can see that, 'I can run 13 miles,' you know, then what's to stop them at their age," Diservio said.

The United Airlines NYC Half Marathon is this Sunday, March 17. Our coverage begins on Eyewitness News at 6 a.m., with live reports along the route.

Our race coverage begins at 7:10 a.m., streaming live at abc7ny.com. Then stay tuned for the highlights show on Channel 7 at 1 p.m.

CLICK HERE for more information on the race.

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