20 AUGUST 2004


Running program helps get kids on the right track

Twice a week for five years, Paul 'Spunky' Ireland of Bartlett, an account control clerk with Memphis Light Gas and Water Division, has been training the children of Youth Villages in running.
His goal is to kindle a lifelong passion for the sport and to prepare the children for local races such as the recent Clear Mountain Natural Spring Water Ultimate 10K at Davies Plantation.

釘esides the obvious health reasons, running is a great motivation for the kids they learn to set a goal and reach it, Ireland says. 典hey become more focused and disciplined.

Ireland's passion for running started in his 30s.
Overweight and out of shape, he knew he needed to make a change.
He began jogging, slowly at first, then faster and for longer times.
He lost weight, but he never lost his motivation to continue running. It had become a passion for him.
He joined the Memphis Runners Track Club (MRTC) and began running regularly with the MRTC Bartlett runners group. An active member, he assumed the club's presidency.

Then, about five years ago, Ireland wanted to do something else, something to help others. When a fellow runner and Youth Villages counselor mentioned that the children of Youth Villages needed volunteers to get a running program started, he took the chance.
Ireland was familiar with troubled children and their needs. He is a regular volunteer with Youth Villages' Family Link shelter a group home and emergency shelter for homeless and runaway teens.

典he kids of Youth Villages have basically been turned away by everyone sometimes even their own parents and that really makes for low self-esteem, Ireland says. 的 hope through the running program we can teach them some self-esteem by showing them how to set a goal, work toward that goal and achieve that goal. I also hope that in some small part, participating in the program can help them in their efforts to overcome their problems.

Ireland has trained hundreds of children during their stay at Youth Villages, where they receive counseling and help until they are ready to return home or go to a group home or a foster family.

撤aul has a heart for our young people, and that shows, says Cheryl Clarkston, with the Youth Villages recreation department. 滴e is one of the most dedicated volunteers our organization has been privileged to have, and MLGW has been a great support by sponsoring the 5K races the children in the running program compete in.

While many of the children may not continue running once they leave Youth Villages, running becomes part of their lives for some.
Several of the young people Ireland trains have become outstanding athletes who compete in local races, and some have won awards.
Two young men receiving help at Youth Villages won first place in the relay division of the Clear Mountain Natural Spring Water Ultimate 10K, and another Youth Villages relay team took third place.
Two of the boys won gold medals in the State Summer Games in Nashville, and one won the State Championship titles for the 100 and 200 yard dashes in his age division. All were trained by Ireland and two dedicated MRTC members from Bartlett, James Hollander and Dr. Beth Andrews, a pediatrician.

鏑ike Paul, Beth and James have been so faithful in coming out and training our kids, Clarkston says. 典heir dedication is admirable, and it means so much for our kids that they come out regularly to be with them. The boys who won awards in the recent State Summer Games have said they will continue running and competing on their school teams once they return home.

Other MRTC volunteers who come out regularly to train and run with the kids are Holly Trowbridge of Bartlett, Ruth Eliason of Eads, Shelley Truax of Collierville and Andrea Allen of Bartlett.
Each recruits more volunteers as a race draws near. On race days, the participating children pair up with MRTC volunteers who run with the child during the entire race.
For the kids, participating in a race is about more than running times and distances. It's a privilege they earn for a combination of academic and treatment accomplishments, sportsmanship and training effort.

的 like the exercise, said Bethany, a 13-year-old girl. 鄭nd it's fun.

To motivate the children to stick with the program, Ireland keeps track of the number of miles they run and the amount of time they run. After accumulating their first 10 miles and after every subsequent 20 miles, the kids are rewarded with a pick from the 鍍reasure chest, a trunk filled with sports items donated to Youth Villages.
The running program has become one of the kids' favorite volunteer projects.
Two years ago, a track named in honor of Ireland was built on a Youth Villages campus.

But for Ireland, the greatest reward he has received is a letter from a mother of a child who had received help at Youth Villages and participated in the running program.

的n her letter she said how much she appreciates the running program, Ireland says. 鉄he wrote that her son used to get in trouble, but now he is on the track team at school and doing well.

For more information about Youth Villages or the running program, call 252-7600. The MRTC Bartlett runners group meets Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. at Freeman Park in Bartlett for a 5-mile run.

Sonja Luecke
19 August 2004,1426,MCA_15697_3118120,00.html

Readers are always welcome to comment on material in "Today".  MAIL COMMENT HERE.
Comments will be published in CYC湧ET's daily e洋ail discussion group.

In the panel on the left you will find similar brief writings
which you may have missed since your last visit.