Running isn't everything to John and Jamie Bursell and the kids they lead in the 4-H Spring Running Club.
Sure, the Bursells are decorated racers and they've led the kids on weekly runs for the past three months. But the 4-H club is about much more than just pounding the pavement or treading the trails. It's about making running an enjoyable all-around experience the kids will stick with for life.
"The main idea we try to get across is that running is fun," Jamie Bursell said. "We try to teach them to be able to talk while they run. ... We like them to be at one with their surroundings, to look at the plants, the animals."
Just completing its second year, the 4-H club brings together kids from first through fifth grade for about one hour of stretching and running on Thursday afternoons. It teaches the kids how to stretch and run, and builds the "running is fun" concept.
The group, which begins its season in early April, meets at a new location each week, giving the kids a chance to experience a variety of conditions from the Mendenhall Wetlands to the Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park track and the lower sections of the Perseverance Trail.
"I like all the fun trails that we run on," said club participant Andy Lawson, 9.
About 20 kids -- from a pool of almost 60 total -- participate on an average Thursday.
"We do stretches first, and then we have three groups -- one slow, one medium and one fast," said Aidan Sabety-Mass, 8.
Aidan said an adult sticks with each group of kids, often teaching activities they can incorporate into their run. He said one game has the kids mimic the direction and motions of the person at the head of the group.
"It's like follow the leader," he said.
Aidan's mom, Rebecca Mass, said the club has made running an important part of her son's life.
"It's something he really has gotten into," she said. "He likes it better than soccer, and it's something that he can keep doing the rest of his life. The whole program is from a lifelong aspect."
Mass said Aidan's experience in the 4-H running club has encouraged him to participate in more weekend Southeast Road Runners races.
All kids who run with the group check in at the beginning and end of each session to prevent anyone from getting left behind.
"You don't need to worry about your kid getting lost on the trail," Mass said.
Parents are encouraged to run with their children if they want to.
"Parents that come along on the run are spending some great quality time with their kids," Jamie Bursell said.
Sandi Pahlke's 10-year-old son, Jake, joined the club this year. She said the group does a good job of meeting its goals.
"John and Jamie do a great job," she said. "They make it fun for the kids and they're great examples. ... If (the kids) can have it be fun, maybe we can hook them into the fact that there is more to do out there than play video games."
While the club held its final regular Thursday run of the season last week, it will be ending the season by participating in two races this week -- Thursday's Fourth of July Douglas Two-Miler Fun Run and Saturday's Governor's Cup short race. Details about those runs can be found in Sports in Juneau on Page B2.
The spring running club will return for a third season next year. Participants must pay a $6 fee to join 4-H. More information can be obtained by calling the local 4-H/University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Office at 465-8756.
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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