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Young runners’ virtual run around the Island

Sidney Cote and Alexis Slack of the Sunset Running Club join hands while running near the elementary school.  - Photo by J.R. Rardon
Sidney Cote and Alexis Slack of the Sunset Running Club join hands while running near the elementary school.
— image credit: Photo by J.R. Rardon

The North Vancouver Island towns of Port McNeill and Sointula face each other across a narrow strip of Broughton Strait, and the normal method of travel between them is a short ferry ride.

But a group of Sunset Elementary School students is making the trip by way of Victoria.

The Sunset Running Club was started in September to prepare young runners for the upcoming districtwide cross country run in Sointula Oct. 24.

Each fall, students at School District 85 and First Nations elementary schools hold practices and/or tryouts for the race on Malcolm Island. But a group of parent volunteers wanted to do something a little different at Sunset.

“We wanted it to be more of a club than a team,” said Cyndy Grant, co-organizer for the running club. “We wanted it to be a real inclusive opportunity for kids to improve their fitness and enjoy running and different kinds of conditioning work.”

The cross country race is open only to runners in Grade 2 and older, but the Sunset club was opened up to Grade 1 students, as well. For incentive, organizers enter each participant’s name into a prize draw, and prizes of small toys are awarded following each noon-hour run.

To enhance camaraderie and the club atmosphere, a large map of Vancouver Island was placed on a wall of the school, and the students’ combined, cumulative kilometres run each day are tracked on the map.

Without ever leaving Port McNeill, the group reached Victoria Oct. 6 and is now on the return trip north.

The South Island terminus was reached by Grant’s sons, Joey and William, during a personal weekend run.

“The kids are following the map really closely,” Cyndy said. “William came home from school Friday (Oct. 5) and said, ‘Mom, we’re four kilometres from Victoria! Can I go out and run four kilometres?”

Club members and their coaches also took part in the recent CIBC Run for the Cure.

The Sunset Running Club meets at noon hour each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. They run under the guidance of parents Doug and Cyndy Grant, Kim Dutcyvich, Denise Blid and Megan Hanacek, as well as volunteer Larry Burroughs, the recently retired school principal who founded and directed the cross country run for years.

“It’s really good to have him involved,” said Grant. “Larry’s going to help out with the race again this year.

The students started out with some track runs, then graduated to longer loops around town, up to 2.5 kilometres. There have been as many as 70 students at a session, though the numbers have dwindled as some youngsters have drifted away or switched to indoor soccer.

That’s not entirely a bad thing, said Grant. The team for the cross country run in Sointula will be chosen based on a combination of performance and participation, and the smaller group indicates to the coaches who is most committed.

And she isn’t concerned they’ll run out of time to complete the “return trip” from Victoria.

“After all,” Grant said, “They’re running longer distances now.”

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