In the summer of 2010, I was sitting in a dorm room in Leuven, Belgium awaiting my last race of the summer season. I received an email that Apple Valley High School was in pretty dire need of a coach with distance running knowledge to help out with the cross country team in the fall. I decided to come aboard. After falling in love with the kids, it only seemed natural to come on as the distance coach for track in the spring, and now I am beginning my fourth season of coaching at the school! Crazy how time flies...
I share all this about my coaching beginnings because it was through coaching at the school that a new and exciting opportunity presented itself last winter. My co-coach called me, and said that in the past, other schools have hosted youth running camps in the summer, and maybe we should host one. And by we, she meant me. ;)
It had always been a dream of mine to host a running camp, I spent many-a-summer in my college days serving as a camp counselor for various running camps and always had a blast. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to get one started. We worked with the district's Community Education Program to advertise and collect fees online, I hired some of my current/recently graduated athletes to help me out as camp counselors, and suddenly, I had nearly 30 kids, aged kindergarten through 8th grade, signed up!
The camp itself took place across four days (July 29th-August 1st), from 9:30-11:30am each day. I have to laugh looking back now, because I originally made very specific laid out plans for each day, scheduling the camp down the minute....and after the first day I realized I had to scrap that mentality! With such a wide age-range and varying levels of experience, I learned quite quickly that it is much better to have a basic outline of the day and go with the flow, rather than micromanaging a bunch of energetic youngsters!
I will be the first to admit that the first day was pretty hectic, but it probably felt more that way to me than it did to the kids because they all left with smiles on their faces. Each day after that, camp got better and better, and I think by the end of the week they learned a lot (as did I)!
Over the course of four days, I got to teach the kids the importance of a good warm up, and we practiced dynamic stretching and good warm-up drills to prepare for workouts and races. We had snack and drink breaks each day, and through that had a great opportunity to talk about the role of nutrition and hydration in running. We practiced pacing ourselves for our recovery days, and working hard on workout days. We did hurdle races, and sprint relays with water balloons for batons (and of course a water balloon fight ensued).
We watched some awesome race videos on a rainy morning, where we got to discuss how different race strategies can be effective if you play to your strengths, we got to see what a cross country race looks like, witness someone diving to cross a finish line to make an Olympic Team (Men's 800m 2008), and even showed the kids some of my own races... I think I have to do that on the first day of camp next year, because after watching my Big Ten 600m fall/get back up video from 2008, one of the kids asked, "You're kind of a big deal, aren't you?" and then I swear they seemed to listen to me better after that??!
We played lots of fun games and emphasized the importance of teamwork, played running trivia, where I was pleasantly impressed to see how much information the kids were retaining from the camp! On the last day, we talked about goal setting, and ran either a half mile (for the youngsters) or full mile cross country race, and ended with a fun awards presentation and picnic lunch.
Even though I felt like things were going really well, it was so affirming to see and talk to all the parents during the picnic, and hear that a lot of the kids were wishing the camp was longer, and wanted to come back next year. My favorite quote was when one of the boys triumphantly proclaimed, "BEST WEEK EVER!!!" as he walked away on the final day wearing his brand new Camp Kampf T-shirt. :)
A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to come speak at a youth Cross Country Race in Apple Valley, and got to see quite a few of my campers from this summer again! (Many of which were kicking butt in the race, I might add... ;) ;)
As I was speaking to the kids about the importance of setting goals and believing in themselves, I was overwhelmed with a sense of understanding of the 'bigger picture'. Looking out into the sea of their young bright faces, I could see a little bit of myself as a kid in all of them. And just like at the camp, I had a speech all planned out in detail, but had to take a detour just to share how cool this realization was. I told them, "You guys, when I was your age, I had NO CLUE that someday, I would be a professional athlete, getting the honor to come speak to you today," just like how I never dreamed in a million years that I could put MY OWN NAME on a youth running camp, and that kids would actually show up!
Reflecting on the whole thing, I'm sure some athletes measure their success in medal counts, prize money, and international fame, but standing in front of that group of kids, all I could think of was, 'I made it', plain and simple.
THIS is how I define success- to be respected enough and successful enough that adults would invite ME to be an influential part of their kids' lives (I don't have kids yet, but I'm wise enough to know that this a a BIG deal!). I've always hoped this sport would give me the opportunity to inspire and help others, but ironically it feels that running is the gift that keeps giving- because I always walk away feeling a little more inspired and motivated every time I get to share my story.