A year and a half after conducting a Town Hall meeting at their 2010 industry conference focused on the obesity epidemic, Running USA has yet to put in place a children’s initiative that would either compliment or coordinate with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move, NFL’s Play 60, or NBA’s Get Fit initiatives. Though a memorandum of understanding (MOU) has been floated to create a joint RUSA, USATF Foundation, RRCA initiative, to date, no consensus has been reached on implementing that, or any other such program.
It is classic running world paralysis, underscoring the deep divisions inherent in this most individual and turf-oriented of sports. As RUSA President Virginia Brophy Achman of Minnesota has said, “While it is great that we all have thoughts and opinions, and I do embrace diverse perspectives, at some point we have to build consensus and move forward. “
She is absolutely right. Yet the passions in the sport run strong. And while that is a good thing, the existential division between road running and its default national governing body, USATF – which, given the state of that organization, shows no signs of changing – has led to a deeply rooted local event orientation, which in turn has made cross-event promotion and consensus an elusive target.
This coming Tuesday another teleconference among RUSA board members will again broach the subject in an attempt to kick start a process which is quickly moving away from a sport whose mission and structure, at least on the surface, is perhaps best suited to address the growing national problem.
Remembering Chelsea, Rewarding Excellence
Yesterday I attended the 2nd Annual Chelsea King Invitational Mile at San Diego’s Lindbergh Schweitzer School (how’s that for a political mash-up?) The competition pitted qualifying third to sixth graders from around San Diego County in a series of mile races. While everyone received a handsome certificate for participating, only the top five places won awards. Fourth and fifth placers took home laces, second and third ribbon-strung medals, and first place earned a pure silver medal of appreciable value.
Lindbergh Schweitzer phys ed teacher Mary Lou Baranowski organized the races to honor the memory of former Poway High School runner Chelsea King who was tragically killed last year while running near her home, and to promote the ideals Chelsea exemplified: athletic excellence, academic achievement, sportsmanship & community outreach. Compared to the huge number of kids’ running events which focus purely on participation, and avoid timing much less rewarding excellence, the Chelsea King Invitational Mile was a welcomed throwback.
“We had kids who were excited by their performances,” said Carmel Del Mar Elementary School volunteer Dave Dial. “And we had kids who were disappointed with their results. But that’s stuff you have to learn. It comes with the territory, ‘live to fight another day’.
“We have one Korean girl who doesn’t have great English language skills yet, but this really brought her out. She went from thinking she couldn’t even qualify (girls needed a sub-8:00 mile, boys sub-7:00), to running 7:32 this spring, and 7:39 today.”
“Thank you so much for putting this on,” Milda Simonaitis said to Mary Lou Baranowski as the event was breaking up. “This is such an important event.”
When I asked Ms. Simonaitis, whose daughter Sonata ran, why she felt that way, she replied, “Not only to honor Chelsea King, but it’s a great way to showcase healthy competition. “
In the last race of the day for sixth graders, defending boy’s champion Brendan Santana of Carmel Del Mar caught first lap leader (and eventual fourth place finisher) Townsend Meyer of Dana midway through the race. Brendan’s 5:21 winning time scrubbed over 20 seconds off his time from last year. The girls’ race was won by long-legged Ireland McCaughley of Dana in 5:44 as she finished fifth overall in a close battle with three boys.
It was fitting that this competitive mile event was run the week marking the 10 year anniversary of Alan Webb’s high school mile record at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon in 2001. Alan’s 3:53.43 broke Jim Ryun’s 36 year-old 3:55.3 American high school record.
Perhaps this county-by-county, school-based format to qualify and then reward the fastest third to sixth grade milers in the nation is one way forward for RUSA. There are plenty of participation-only opportunities for kids throughout the country in local road races. As a truly new initiative, RUSA might consider reconnecting with the roots of our sport by fostering and celebrating excellence while encouraging participation.
Let us know how you feel, and we’ll bring those concerns to the teleconference on Tuesday.