But perhaps if they show you, you’ll see for yourself — the broad grins, fast legs. The slingshot starts for training runs at Anniston High School, because none of them wants to start slow. None of them knows how to start slow. The high-fiving as they race down Christine Avenue. The miles they can run now that before they couldn’t.
“Sometimes it’s a challenge, but I like running,” 12-year-old Lamont Hutto said. “The best part is being able to do something I didn’t think I’d be able to do.”
The Anniston Middle schooler and his fellow We All Run group-mates met at the high school Wednesday for a last training run before the Woodstock 5K. Most of these 15 kids have been meeting four days each week all summer to build up endurance, learn running safety and tips and — most importantly — get in shape to run alongside 1,500 other entrants in today’s big race.
Group leader Joseph Jankoski started the We All Run effort in June to encourage city students and west Anniston kids to live healthier, more active lives. We All Run does that, Jankoski said, by exposing these teens to the area’s ample running opportunities, the 800-member Anniston Runners Club and the Woodstock 5K, the club’s flagship footrace.
Nine of the We All Run kids plan to run all of the 3.1 miles today. The other six will participate in the one-mile “Kidstock” race.
On the eve of the group’s final training run, Jankoski said it’s been rewarding to watch his kids develop as runners and become more enthusiastic about the sport as well as race day.
“I’m glad that doing this has kind of inspired some of these kids,” he said, after leading the group through race visualization exercises in the high school parking lot. “Some couldn’t really run that far. Now, they pretty much run the whole thing.”
To be sure, under the patient guidance of Jankoski and other runners club volunteers, the We All Run kids have made transformations. Anniston senior Chris Fantroy used to falter running on hills. Now, the 16-year-old has the lung power to get up and over them, with confidence if not ease.
Jimmy Felton, 11, likes to exercise now, and he’s made new friends since he joined the group.
Antonio Henderson, 15, realized that he enjoys racing people, picking them off as their legs tire.
Fourteen-year-old Zebedee Lunsford doesn’t mind when other friends call him crazy. He enjoys the feeling of “striding it out” at the top of Leighton Avenue, one of the Woodstock course’s particularly long inclines.
And for Hutto, the companionship of running has become an important part of his week. At the Anniston Runners Club’s Thursday training runs this summer, the rising eighth-grader found himself running the Woodstock course alongside former club president Brooke Nelson.
“I enjoy her company,” said Hutto, who hopes to finish today’s race in about 28 minutes. “I really do.”
All group members are racing in new yellow technical shirts and running shoes donated to the group by the local Junior League. (Henderson said his new shoes felt like “walking on pillows.”)
Additionally, donations from community residents have paid the registration fees for the kids and the runners club covered their $8 per person pasta dinners on Friday. Before carbo-loading at the pre-race dinner, We All Run members received their neon yellow shirts, which Fantroy showed off before joining the group line for pasta.
As he waited for his plate, Anniston middle schooler Stedman Stansil noted this will be his first 5K race. Later, Lunsford pointed out a runners club member he hoped to beat today.
The kids also helped organizers set up for the race on Friday. High spirits obvious as they unloaded coolers off a pickup truck, they chattered amongst themselves.
“Man, I’m sweating out here, and I’m not even running,” 17-year-old Ki-Jana Byrd exclaimed.
Race director Dennis Dunn said it’s been heartwarming to watch the progress of the We All Run kids, to see some of the parents run alongside them during their practices on the hilly Woodstock course.
“The fact that group is meeting — and the runners club is actually helping to train that group to get them acclimated to running — that’s been huge,” Dunn said. “We’re very excited to get those kids involved, and to get kids who probably normally wouldn’t be involved.”
Star staff writer Cameron Steele: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @Csteele_star.