The Chattanooga Track Club

Promoting Running and Fitness in Chattanooga

Youngsters inspire us with untapped running ability
Posted: Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Click image for full gallery

Click Image to see full gallery

It's almost as much fun as recess.  They're tired, sweaty and ready for a break and a cool something to drink.  But if they had a choice, they would probably opt to do it every afternoon in the fall and not just on Thursdays.

What we're talking about here is the Elementary School Cross Country Races, which are held every Thursday afternoon in September and the first one in October.  The group includes third, fourth and fifth graders from about a dozen Hamilton County schools and they gather at the Riverpark off of Amnicola Highway for a series of one-mile races.

They are a site to behold.  Most are huddled in groups, talking with their school mates and trying to stretch to the best of their ability.  They probably don't realize the connection between stretching and running, but they do it anyway because that's what they've been told to do.

The fifth graders toe the starting line first.  Many head that way long before the starting whistle sounds, perhaps to get their game faces on or maybe to plot a little strategy before the serious business begins.  Some do jumping jacks while others do cartwheels, but it's obvious they have more energy than they can contain and they're ready to run with the time comes.

We adults don't think much about running one mile, but for some of these young folks, it may as well be a marathon.  Most start out at a break-neck pace without any idea how far a mile really is.  Some are walking before they have reached the quarter-mile mark. 

Pacing is another concept they haven't fully grasped just yet.  They run fast as they can for as long as they can and then they walk until they feel better and then they run hard again.  Times aren't really important, but the fact they are out there taking part in a positive experience is really the neat thing about this whole gathering.

Some of the teams have uniforms, complete with singlets and shorts.  Others show up in cutoff bluejeans while some even wear long pants.  Some sport "real" running shoes while others simply compete in tennis shoes.  And while some take a long, long time to cover that mile, others are pretty darn fast.

Take Stephen Heinichen for instance.  This fourth-grader from Thrasher posted the fastest time of the day on Sept. 14 with a blistering 6:06.  The fastest third-grade boy was clocked in 6:26 while the winning fifth-grade boy had an outstanding 6:09.  The top times for the girls included 7:00, 6:37 and 6:21.

While some 359 runners competed in the second gathering, most are just your average children who love to socialize, play and occasionally do a little work.

Christina Grey is a fourth grader from Ganns Middle Valley.  She may be the exception to the rule, but that doesn't keep her from competing right with the rest of the runners.  And I'm sure she has just as much fun, but she pays a higher price to compete than most.

This young lady suffers from Ricketts, which from what her coach Drew White explained, is a birth defect that causes extreme bow-leggedness and makes walking a difficult challenge.  Young Christina does more than walk.  She'll run for 10 or 12 steps before stopping to walk.  A few minutes later, she'll run a little bit more.  She's at the back of the back immediately and she's all alone for most of the way, but the admirable thing is that she doesn't quit.

And according to coach White, she apparently doesn't know what that word means.

"Ricketts is something she'll have to deal with the rest of her life, which makes running a painful exercise.  But Christina is probably the most determined little girl I've ever met.  She's always there when we practice and she's present at every race.  She always has a good attitude and I think she would try anything," White explained.

Schools in addition to Ganns Middle Valley include Big Ridge, Bright, Thrasher, Hickory Valley Christian, Red Bank, Soddy, St. Peter's, St. Jude, Brainerd Baptist and St. Nicholas among others.

The future of running in Chattanooga is happening at the Chattanooga Riverpark on Thursday afternoons through Oct. 5 when the final race of the season will be contested.  No question there will be kids who will celebrate personal victories because they accepted a challenge for the first time and they conquered it.  Many will probably go on to outstanding athletic careers.  Most will probably be outstanding community leaders.

And they will continue to inspire.  You see a young lady like Christina Grey and you quickly close your eyes and give thanks for healthy legs.  We think we have good excuses to quit or to not run to begin with and we see someone like her and we realize we don't have any problems.

It's not too late to get into the action as a support person.  Various members of the CTC have been out there helping set up and serving as sentries on the course.  It's been a blast and I'm glad that I've been part of the action.  If you want to see what I'm talking about, the next opportunity will be at 4 p.m. for the next few weeks.

Hope to see you there.  You'll be glad you did.


Chattanooga Track Club • 1014 Dallas Road • Suite 101 • Chattanooga, TN 37405 • (423) 842-6265