* Twilight race aids Whispering Hope.
Children that once walked a mile will run more than three on Saturday after weeks of practice.
The kids have been improving their times dramatically in the new eight-week youth program Redeemer Runners, offered through the sports ministry of First Redeemer Church.
Coach Greg Patterson said he expected to get about a dozen to sign up when the program started in August, but he’s since guided 44 kids in third through eighth grades to improve their running skills.
“Where they’ve come to from where they’ve started has just been absolutely phenomenal,” Patterson said. “Half of them couldn’t even run a mile, and they’re all going to run a 5K.”
The group will complete the Twilight 5K on Saturday, which will benefit Whispering Hope, a nonprofit Christian women’s resource center in Forsyth County.
The 3.1-mile course at First Redeemer Church will mark the end of the program’s first season.
Michael Womac said it will be the longest, continuous distance his 9-year-old daughter has ever run.
At the first practice, Sloane Womac finished a mile in 16 minutes and 27 seconds.
“Bless her heart,” her dad said, “I think she was the last one to finish.”
But at a group run on a recent afternoon, she made it to the end in less than 10 minutes, knocking her time down by 6.5 minutes in about two months.
Womac said his daughter has most enjoyed setting and reaching a goal of completing a 5K by participating in the program.
On the first day of school, before attending the group’s initial practice, he said she included “training for a 5K” in telling the teacher a little bit about herself.
She’s involved in dance, but has never participated in other sports, which made running a challenge.
Her father said it’s one she enjoys and even asks her parents to go with her.
“She’s gotten her whole family out there,” Michael Womac said. “I can’t run as far as she can. She’s coaching me.”
While Sloane Womac has developed a new interest after seeing the announcement in the church bulletin, a fellow Redeemer Runner found a place to cultivate his hobby with the group.
Mellen Bekele said her 9-year-old son, Lucas, enjoyed running but his school doesn’t offer a cross-country program like those in middle or high schools.
“It’s just an awesome program here if you have a kid that doesn’t fit in some sport,” she said. “It’s such an individualized thing, but it’s also a group thing.”
Bekele said the teachings and encouragement of the coach have motivated her fourth-grader to improve his times, physical fitness and focus.
The 5K on Saturday is one of many likely ahead her son, who plans to continue in future seasons of the program and other running opportunities.
“The excitement, I don’t think it’s winding down,” Bekele said. “It’s getting better.”
Patterson said he’s been impressed with the dedication of the runners, who show up to as many practices as they can, in any weather. During practice they run a 5K in sections, with other physical training in between.
“It’s all about their own times and their own improvements,” he said, “and these kids are smiling.”
He launched the program to create an outlet in which any child can participate, after one of his sons didn’t make a school team and had no other activities.
“So I thought I’m going to get a program going,” he said. “Send your kids here if they’ve got nothing to do. They can run with me.”