I may have a hard time with my run, but there’s just something about it that makes it a perfect sport to break barriers.
As I wrote here, the Camillus House Children’s Run Team was composed of 30 kids from opposite sides of the tracks. Fourteen children lived at Camillus’ Mother Seton Village – a transitional housing facility for homeless families. The other sixteen were from affluent areas of Miami. They came together for a one-week summer camp, and will be training independently throughout the summer. We meet again in August and if most of the team improves their times on the 400 and 800 meters, they earn bicycles for the ninety plus children who live at Mother Seton.
Watching them throughout the camp, there were few times you could tell who was who. As children who were running, they had a lot more in common than not.
Try to guess which children live in transitional housing and which do not. Hint – not always the ones you think.
However, communication at first was strained while each group stuck to their own “peeps.” Since that was absolutely foreseeable before we even began to run we did an activity where children were matched in pairs and had to list all the things they had in common. At first, their common items were “we are both human” or “we both have eyes.” But soon they began to dialogue a little more, for example look at what two children wrote. Remember one had been in a homeless shelter, one lived in an affluent neighborhood of Miami.
But had we only stuck to didactic workshops, the camp and the bond between the children would not have been so successful. The run focus made the program work and here’s why.
When you train for a race, many times you look for people who are also competing in that race to train with. You have a lot in common and can spend hours talking about course details, nutrition, weather and such.
All the children at camp understood they were there to run, and to run faster so they could earn bikes for all the children at Mother Seton. If we didn’t have that common goal I don’t believe the children would’ve worked so well together.
Equipment & Location
All you need to run are shoes (maybe), and before camp started sponsors purchased “real” running shoes for each of the Camillus House children as well as a run outfit. They were sporting all the major brands: Asics, Saucony, Mizuno, and Nike to name a few. The playing field, at least in terms of equipment, was the same.
The same is true for location. We held practice both in Homestead, near where the Mother Seton children lived, as well as in Key Biscayne, where many of the other children are from. We could run everywhere, and that flexibility let us take everyone out of their usual context.
The children differed in nutrition though. Sometimes a child would tell me that they had fruit gummies for breakfast because mom wasn’t home, while another had eggs and toast before coming to camp.
Some of us may run fast while others slower, but if we are both putting in our maximum effort the discomfort we feel is equal. It’s just the speed at which we feel them differ. I always thought my fast friends struggled less then I did because after all they are faster. They don’t, they just struggle at 6:00 minute miles while I struggle at 10.
There is something about that struggle that bonds us runners. Camp was hot, the Gatorade was never done just right, and legs were sore. That common dis”ease” brought the team together. They all had to push themselves and be uncomfortable to finish the work. When they would finally hear “water break” and come running all at once to the two coolers, there was a common joy.
It’s hard not to find at least one inspiring runner at a finish line. Someone who either ran so fast they collapsed or had to overcome so much to finish dead last. Willie was an inspiration. He wasn’t going to sign up for the team, he came to tryouts to help his brothers and sisters who were signing up. But we convinced him and he came with us.
Willie is not built like a runner. To give you an idea, he wears a size 14 shoe. Yes, a size fourteen RUNNING shoe and adult large clothing. And yes, he is only fourteen years old. His uncle is close to seven feet and it seems Willie is taking after him. Though slower than many in the team, Willie persisted. He showed up everyday with a smile and willing to do the work. He never whined or complained, he was constantly helping the coaches in carrying stuff back and forth from the vans. He embodied teamwork, sportsmanship and courage.
The last day of camp the children had to run 400 then 800 meters. Willie ran them, and as his face seemed to struggle many in the team began to run next to him encouraging him. We began to chant “wi-llie, wi-llie” and that kid sprinted to the finish line to an enormous cheer with hugs from all his fans.
This is probably true of many sports, but in track when all the kids are lined up in position to begin running there is something in the air. They were all a little nervous, anxious, and with the adrenaline pumping. They wanted to either beat someone or their own times but they had the look in their eye that they were going for it. It was as intense as it was delightful to see the focus.
And it was that bond formed through running which spilled over to the relationships the children built. The comfort level amongst the group increased. Mixed groups began to form, friendships were made, children began to learn from each other …
From swimming, to soccer, to cheerleading they each shared what they knew how to do best. And it all happened because of running.
You might want to read these posts on the Camillus House run team: