For me, running has always been more about community than winning races or setting PRs. Maybe that’s because I’ve never been super fast, and if that’s the case then my speed limitations are a mercy from God, because running has brought me some great friendships. Even when I was in high school and racing all the time, the thing I loved about running was the team. The same thing happened when I moved to Richmond, I found a running group. We had fast runs and slow runs, but that didn’t matter: those girls became my closest friends.
When I started working as the Director of Neighborhood Outreach at West End Presbyterian, it just made sense to run with kids in the neighborhood, so we started the WEPC Track Club. Two weeks ago we celebrated our fourth year.
Every Monday and Thursday during the summer, coaches and runners head to the track to run.
The runners learn some basics of running and track, like how to warm up and stretch, the starting position, and staying in your lane during a race.
Some of these kids were just born to run; you can see it in their stride. They run like yearlings, with strength and ease that can’t be taught.
In years past, Tom has helped as a leader. This year, while I was with the runners, Tom helped by watching David.
David loved it. He crawled around on the turf, pushed the stroller, and scoured the area for forgotten lacrosse balls.
We do this in the dead of summer, July to August, and the kids come out twice a week to run. Convincing kids to RUN might seem like a fools errand. We compete with the pool, the television, and video games.
But the kids keep showing up, and as the summer goes on the kids always want more. They want to run farther and faster. And the cooles thing is, they’re always smiling while they run.
We’ve been doing this for four years, but we’re hardly a well-oiled machine. We never know who will show up, how many kids or what their ages will be. It’s hard to set relays or activities when your top five runners happen to not show up, or that someone has brought along ten of their cousins from North Carolina, just for this week.
So we improvise. We’re unorganized and lots of activities fail. Two years ago I did a relay where each kid had to run with a bucket over their head and pass it to the next runner and the team with the fastest time and most water would win. The kids are smarter than me and just dumped their water immediately and sprinted to the finish.
The disorganization makes us unique, but so does our team. Our team is made up of kids from all over the world: the U.S., Sudan, Mexico, Malawi, Afghanistan, Burundi, Honduras, Egypt, Ethiopia, Bhutan, Iraq, Somalia, Nepal. In the international sense, it’s sort of like the Olympics every night.
Every year we celebrate our season with a Grand Finale. The kids invite their parents and friends out to see their speed.
Our youngest runners start the night off with the Dress-up and Run Relay. The wife and mother of the pair in the photo below described it as an African runner with his German coach. Typical Track Club.
Then we line the kids up for 50m dashes. They get to show off their starting position skills.
And also their “finish strong” skills.
It’s amazing how the kids find a new gear when the finishing tape comes out. The first time we used it we didn’t tell the kids in advance, we just rolled it out and held it over the finish line. When the runners noticed it, they all started murmuring and standing on their tiptoes to get a better look.
Then when they heard the starting call, they exploded from the line to and raced to the finish to see how it felt breaking on their chest.
The marquis event is the 400m relay. We work on the baton hand-offs all summer, and the most dedicated runners are selected to participate.
I feel like a proud mom watching those hand-offs, smooth like butter.
You know how, when you watch Michael Phelps race, seeing him win gold in the 100m butterfly is impressive, but in the 51 seconds it takes him to do it, you can’t really get a sense of the hard work and hours of training it took to get him there?
That’s how I feel watching this video. Ah, the hand-offs are wonderful, but the 80 seconds of this video don’t convey the hours of drills it took to get them that way.
This is the team photo from the Grand Finale last year. I didn’t think I was going to go to the Grand Finale last year because I was due to have a baby a week before the finale.
Instead, I went to the finale and David was born the next day. I wouldn’t have chosen the timing, but it really was perfect.
This year, the Grand Finale happened to fall on David’s birthday, and after all the running everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to him.
And what can you say about a moment like that except, “Wow. What a blessing”?
Not every child has a full set of bleachers sing to them on their birthday.
Wow, what a blessing.
We started Track Club four years ago because we love to run, and we gathered other leaders who love also to run. But the reason this thing has continued for four years is because God is at work in Track Club.
Maybe that sounds trite, but it’s true. Every night, after we run and hand out ice pops to the kids, we tell them that Jesus loves them.
We tell them that running will give them strong muscles and healthy hearts, but Jesus will give them forgiveness, love and eternal life. They hear that, running is great, but Jesus is better.
And the cool thing is that, sometimes, the kids tell the leaders about Jesus, too. They remind us that Jesus is good and we can call out to him for help.
Through the years, a few of the runners have decided to join the track teams at their schools and we’ve taken others to a few races. They started winning the kids runs, so we bumped them up to the 5k.
I get emotional when I see these kids run, when they set their faces in determination and then collapse from the effort at the finish line. Sometimes I get confused and I think my hope is in running — that these kids will be saved if they just join the track team and make me proud.
At the Grand Finale we all got shirts with a Bible verse on the back. It’s from Acts 2:21 and it says, “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
I love that verse because it’s a reminder of our true hope — not in running or whatever else — but in the sweet truth that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Wow. What a blessing.