While a typical high school student may spend weekends relaxing, 17-year-old Raphi Heldman is much more likely to be on the run — for up to 26.2 miles, to be precise. Since entering high school, he has run in the Los Angeles Marathon four times.
“It’s a lot of commitment, and one of the things I can take pride in,” said the senior at Hamilton High School’s humanities magnet.
Running has made him part of a community, given him a sense of identity and offered plenty of life lessons, he said.
“The insane amount of commitment that the guys have, and their tendency to push themselves when their knees are buckling, legs cramping, [is inspiring],” Heldman said.
In addition to exploring Los Angeles on foot, Heldman likes to exercise his cerebral muscles. For the past two years he has been a member of Penn Model Congress, which involves students simulating sessions of U.S. Congress by writing their own legislation and debating it.
He would have participated for a third year, but as a sophomore his appendix ruptured, landing him in the hospital for three weeks. An infected blood clot complicated matters.
“I think my parents were a lot more afraid than I was; it was just out of their control, and I didn’t feel a sense of impending death or anything like that,” Heldman said. “I was kind of fed up with staying in the hospital, I wanted it to be over as soon as possible, so I made it a point of mine to keep walking and exercising to the extent that I could, to get out faster.”
That he did. Ultimately, he said, “It sort of taught me the value of patience and always waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel.”
[Next Grad: Joelle Milman]
This past year, Heldman worked as a volunteer on the political campaign of former California State Assemblywoman Betsy Butler, making phone calls and canvassing on her behalf in her campaign for the 50th Assembly District. After losing in a close race, she announced that she will seek the 62nd Assembly District in 2014.
Heldman, who was confirmed at Temple Isaiah, said he appreciated being surrounded by synagogue volunteers who, being Holocaust survivors, shared their stories.
He said he identifies most with the concept of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and with Jewish culture. With that in mind, he organized book fairs to benefit afterschool programs for the underprivileged as part of the citywide volunteer weekend Big Sunday.
Graduating fourth in his class of more than 550 students, Heldman plans to attend University of California, Berkeley, next year and major in either economics or biological sciences.