Striders of all stripes
By Marlene Farrell
PESHASTIN — A mom proudly confessed that her 7-year old just completed her first race, a 2.1-mile leg of the Sunflower Relay. The girl wanted to do it, and knew she could do it, because she had been practicing at Striders.
Maybe she would have become a runner some day anyway. Her parents are runners. Maybe her personality would be drawn to endurance sports. But she’s a runner now, at age seven. It’s a piece of how she sees herself in this world.
P.D. Striders, my running club for kindergarteners through second-graders, attracts all sorts.
There is the boy who, when I asked, “What is good advice for running in our 1.2 mile fun run?” answered “Run like you’re going to win the race and don’t slow down.”
And he did just that. He streaked out of the parking lot like a shirtless bolt. I didn’t get to see him in the middle of the race, in the neighborhood. But I saw his finish down a dirt hill, with a sharp turn onto the track. He galloped on short legs, hugged the curve tight and ran his hardest on the track to break the tape.
Other Striders run and walk in clumps with their friends. For some their favorite part is to giggle while butt-kicking in the grass or bear-walking up the stadium steps. Some love tag while others would rather be helpers, cleaning up the cones when we’re done. Many give it their all, in a time trial or a team relay, straining forward while wearing blue jeans or flowing skirts.
At Striders we celebrate each child’s accomplishments. It’s not a competition. There’s often a squabble over who is first in line for doing a drill but when they realize there’s no benefit to being first, that we all do the same thing, and that we cheer loudest for those who finish last, then it’s a bit easier to shrug off the idea of “me first.”
Kids love snack time at the end of our practices. They’ve earned it, running as many laps as they are old. Little graham crackers shaped like dog bones and orange slices donated from the local grocery are sweet treasures for the heart-pounding initiates.
The aim is not to see how many laps the Striders can run. We don’t keep track. That’s for Jogathon and its fundraising hoopla. It’s not to see how fast they can run, though they impress me over and over again. Sometimes it’s just for a few seconds, but it’s amazing when a child is lit by a fire to go, defying her own expectations of what she can do.
They’ll retain a tactile memory of running: the lightness of their feet, the wind through their hair, the burn in their lungs, the growing heaviness in their legs, and the quenching gulps of air when they stop. They can reflect on what it means later, in the comfort of their desks and chairs. They might not name it, but there’s satisfaction in completing something arduous and challenging.
The Striders willingly do long runs around the track, race fartleks as turtles, rabbits, and horses, jump hurdles, and perfect their sprinter’s stance, because I ask them to. And when I receive a spontaneous hug from a boy who might have trouble concentrating in class, but who really focuses at Striders, I wish that Striders didn’t have to end. But it can start again, next spring.
Marlene Farrell, a Leavenworth resident and long-distance runner, helps coach the Peshastin-Dryden Striders kids running club. If you are interested in helping out the Striders in some fashion, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.