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Youth set their own pace, meet goals on National Running Day

| Wednesday, June 13, 2012, 3:09 p.m.

It may have been an ordinary day for most, but for coach Dave Gray and his 25 youth runners, June 6 was a holiday.

To celebrate National Running Day, they participated in the second-annual Ready, Set, Run! 5K.

Youths ages 8 to 15 participated in the 5K at Blueberry Hill Park in Franklin Park, the final milestone in a 12-week running program.

"They all finished the race under 40 minutes, which is great because the kids that we have are at all different levels," said Gray, a youth fitness specialist in the North Hills. "They all just really pushed themselves and completed the race."

Marian Patchen, mother of 10-year-old participant Jeannie Schleppy, was a volunteer runner on race day. The mother-daughter duo has been involved with the program for two years and can't get enough.

"I am happy to run each year and hang back with the slower runners as I did this year," Patchen said. "It's fun for me, shows my kids what's important, and gives me a chance to do what I love to do -- help the underdog."

Crossing the finish line was not the only thing the runners learned. Ready, Set, Run! ditched bench time and allowed each child to meet his or her own goals.

"The running program worked because it enabled all children, no matter what their abilities were, to participate," said Gray, who has been coaching youth since 1996. "Kids weren't getting discouraged."

"It was so wonderful to see these kids out there," Patchen said. "Not only were they working hard to do their best and finish the race but, more importantly, working together cohesively as a team, truly wanting one another to succeed."

Gray's Ready, Set, Run! program was only one of six in the United States last year, and now serves as a model for emerging groups across the country. It is a branch of the National Alliance of Youth Sports that teaches basic training in football, golf, t-ball, soccer, basketball and, now, running.

"Kids take their cues from parents, teachers and coaches," said Patchen. "(Coach Dave) has taught these kids so much more than finishing a 5K -- as if that in and of itself isn't enough."

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