BY DENNIS CHASE
TRAVERSE CITY — It all started a few years back when Jolie King entered her daughter Remmi in a one-mile fun run.
"She blew everybody away," King said. "She blew me away. She ran a 6:55 mile — as a second-grader. She's the reason I started this whole thing."
This "whole thing" would be the K-Town Striders — a youth cross country team comprised primarily of Kingsley and Traverse City runners between the ages of 8 and 14.
That was four years ago. Next Saturday, the Striders will compete in the National Junior Cross Country Olympics in Albuquerque, N.M.
The midget girls — grades 6-7 — could win. They easily captured the Michigan Junior Olympics title in Northville earlier this month, placing seven runners in the top 11. Sielle Kearney won the 3K in 11:29.
"They were third two years ago (at nationals) in bantam (grades 4-5)," King said. "Now, you add Aubrie Deal, who won the Turkey Trot 5K, and Sielle Kearney, who won her age group in the Turkey Trot five mile (33:30), to the mix and we stand a chance of winning of it."
The bantam girls should also contend. They dominated at the Michigan Junior Olympics as well, putting five in the top 10. Anna Hunt was the overall champion in the 3K (12:36).Tia Town, who was seventh, just finished third in the Turkey Trot 5K, two spots behind Deal (20:42 to 22:45). Deal is 11, Town is 10.
"Some of these times these kids are running, they could be beating some high schools girls," King said. "They're that good."
The Striders' season lasts less that two months — from mid-October to early December. They train five days a week.
"These kids are extremely committed," King said.
The key, she added, is to keep it fun.
"We train hard, but we also realize these are kids," she said. "We try to develop a love (for running) and a competitiveness. It's a hard mix, but I think we are succeeding."
King, a track and cross country coach at the high school level, said her workouts are designed for varsity athletes, but toned down, obviously.
"And every week we do something fun," she said. "This week was mismatch week and crazy hat week. We did neon week during hunting season."
The team trains mostly in Kingsley, although it's subject to change. The group ran at Logan's Landing one day this week — and has practiced at Moomers, too, followed up, of course, with ice cream.
King has three daughters running.
Remmi, her oldest daughter, took fourth at the Michigan Junior Olympics, running the 3K in 11:55.
"A mere second (out of third)," she said.
Remmi's personal best in the 3K is 11:46, a time she hopes to beat in New Mexico.
"I would like to finish in the top 10," she said.
Although Remmi enjoys the "fun" training days, she likes the serious part, too.
"My personal favorite is when we do the hard workouts because I like to push myself," she said.