The Newman University cheer and dance and triathlon teams joined Swaney Elementary School in Derby, Kansas, to support the students in completing their last mile of a marathon challenge.
Jeff Lovgren, Newman’s triathlon coach, explained, “The event is a challenge across elementary and middle schools for kids to go out and run a marathon. They do a mile a day for 26 days.”
Lovgren had a connection to the school through one of his adult athletes, who contacted him, asking if there was anything that Newman could do to make their last mile special.
“We came up with the deal that we would go down and run that last mile with them. We took a couple of cheer and dance team members, and they came down and cheered everyone on, and kind of just made it more of a special occasion for them.”
He believed that the kids’ last mile should be memorable, as they have worked hard to get there.
“They got up and went to school early for 26 days and ran a mile regardless of what the weather was,” explained Lovgren. “For being that age, that’s quite a big commitment; I was impressed by it and I just wanted to be a part of their achievement and acknowledge what they had achieved and congratulate them.”
Lovgren went on to say, “They got a huge kick out of it. Their coach was telling me all day long, she was hearing (from the elementary students) how cool it was that these college students came down and ran the mile with them. I know my athletes had a good time doing it, too.”
Triathletes Marlie Wagner, Steven Nguyen, Makayla Ehmke and Andrew Nguyen — all sophomores at Newman University — agreed with their coach, expressing they had as much fun as the kids did.
Steven Nguyen explained, “It was a fun experience just because we got to see not only the kids interact with one another, but it was also amazing getting to the brother-sister bond with these younger kids as we ran.”
Wagner thought the kids were empowered and energized by the presence of the cheer and dance and triathlon team members.
“I can easily say that we did have an impact on them,” she said. “Just because of some of the comments from the adults that were there; they talked about it with a few of us, and they were saying, ‘The kids were so excited to have you here. They were just full of energy and actually wanted to do this.’”
In a spirit of competition and fun, many of the elementary kids started challenging the triathletes to races.
“It’s pretty funny,” Andrew Nguyen said. “Whenever we got closer to the kids, they would run faster.”
Ehmke agreed, “Yeah, they were like, ‘You can’t beat us, we’re young, we’re hip, we’re gonna beat you guys.’”
Steven Nguyen also mentioned having a special connection as he was running with one of the kids.
“I remember running next to this one kid that seemed down and just out of it, and we ended up starting up a conversation with each other. I was down, too, that day and we were both able to just crack jokes and talk about whatever it was that was on his mind. I just enjoyed talking to him.”
Beyond their appreciation of the kids’ enthusiasm and the bonds that were formed, the triathletes found hope in how much the kids cared for one another.
Wagner shared, “One of the little girls that I was running with talked about how her friend was behind, she had gotten sick and missed a couple of mornings, and didn’t get to run. So, this little girl was done with all her mileage, but she wanted to keep running to run with her friend.”
She concluded, “Honestly, it’s really inspiring to see these little kids, and how pure their interactions are, how they just have fun with everything they do and how they pride themselves on these relationships.”