Running With Courage: The Heart of a Lion 5K Returns to Campus

March 06, 2024
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Leo the Lion speaks with Erica Baldaray in front of Founders Hall and Peace Lake before the start of the Heart of a Lion 5k.

The Heart of a Lion 5K made a rousing return to SUA on February 23 after a four-year hiatus. Nearly 150 students, faculty, and staff gathered for the fourth annual event, which had been paused since 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Cheering each other before, during, and after the race is the most exciting part to witness, exemplifying the Soka community’s greater tradition of encouragement and support,” said Daiki Katsukawa ’26.

The founding motto of SUA’s track and field team—“Heart of a lion; Heart of a champion; Can’t be defeated!”—was the inspiration for the return of the Student Affairs and Soka Athletics-hosted event, designed to bring the campus together and promote the importance of physical activity for overall well-being.

The Heart of a Lion 5K Run was first held in 2017 after Student Affairs and Athletics reviewed a campus-wide student survey that revealed a downtrend in physical activity and many students reporting some level of mental health concern. These survey results were reflective of a nationwide trend, and Soka staff came up with the run as a way to address the issue at SUA.

“Research shows that regular exercise has a strong correlation with mental and physical health,” says Patrick Boivin, SUA cross country / track and field coach, who has led much of the effort to organize the Heart of a Lion events.

“As exercise science educators, we want to do what we can to showcase how easy it is to access the gym, weight room, bikes, and athletics field,” says Boivin.

Students, faculty, and staff run on campus during the Heart of a Lion 5k.

While promoting physical movement, the run has also become a venue to generate campus pride while nurturing a sense of community. This year’s Heart of a Lion event buzzed with folks chatting, laughing, and cheering together—especially during the raffle at the end of the evening when a student won a pair of running shoes.

“We got here early Friday morning to set up, and when we wrapped up in the evening, everyone was so revved up, talking about the high points of the night and how we can make it an even better experience next year,” says Boivin.

Katsukawa, a second-year member of the SUA men’s track and field team, said the support that participants express and receive at the Heart of a Lion event reflects the Soka community’s “belief in uplifting one another toward common goals—crossing the finish line—fostering an environment where everyone feels valued and motivated to succeed.”