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Changing lives through running

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By Chris Cannon

            For many, running is something that is never though about. However, in Campbell County, it’s becoming a way of life for some youngsters.

            The Campbell County elementary and middle school cross-country runners are beginning their eighth season. This season, they’ve grown the program bigger then any previous year.

            “It started off with a group of kids, and I had some younger kids show up with their siblings,” head coach Anne Browning said. “We had two elementary runners the first year. I have probably 30 elementary runners this year. We started off with about 15 kids, and now we’re up to about 50, which is good for cross-country.”

            With kids from Christian Academy, LaFollette Middle, Jacksboro Middle, and all the elementary schools the team has grown substantially in the past eight seasons. Racing as a club team in the Knoxville Youth Athletics Group, the success has been proven.

            “We are not a TMSAA sport, because we would have to have a program at every school,” Browning said. “We compete with schools from all over Knox County, and our season culminates with a state meet that does encompass the entire state.”

            Qualifying for the state meet takes place in the regional championships. Since the beginning of the team, Campbell County has had runners in the state every season.

            However, to Browning, it’s not always about the competition. It’s about a better life for the young runners on her squad.

            “The main thing that I like about it is that a lot of the kids do keep running once they get to high school,” Browning said. “The thing for me is that I want them to enjoy and have a healthy life. I want them to enjoy running, and to learn how to make that part of a regular routine. Our focus is mainly on fun. We don’t worry a lot about the competition, but I have some kids that just want to compete. Those kids, we might push a little harder.”

            One such runner is eighth grader Gracie Faulkner. Competing in the state meet every season she’s been in the program is a great feat for such a young runner.

            With the middle school squad racing two miles in competition and the elementary squad hitting a mile, the runners aren’t your every day joggers. In practice, middle schoolers will run as far as four miles, broken up, in order to train for the competition races.

            “I actually have kids that I have to say, ‘You cannot run anymore today,’” Browning said. “They’ll just keep going.”

            Setting personal goals is something that Browning is trying to instill in her runners as well. Focusing on not how fast the race was run, but rather where it was finished is something that has to be discovered by these runners.

“The focus, again, is not to worry about how fast you run against everybody else, but rather to set goals for yourself. ‘Today, I’m going to run a half-mile without stopping,’” Browning said. “That might be that person’s goal.

            “I usually ask them [what those goals are] during practice. I always stress it to the kids and the parents to look at what you’re working on. I have kids from kindergarten to eighth grade with all ability levels.”

            The squad is also taking members for another two weeks. As competition begins the Tuesday after Labor Day, Browning says the runners need at least a couple weeks of practice before they would be able to compete.

            If anyone is interested in joining the team, contact Coach Browning at Campbell County High School.