Back in 2004, there were no organized running opportunities available for kids younger than high school age in Durango. Mark Dutro, former Durango High School cross country coach, approached the running club about the possibility of supporting a middle school cross-country program.
Ten years later the success of this program is evident by the number of participants and the joy and excitement that this experience gives them.
They call themselves the “Durango Trail Runners Cross Country Team,” and I had the pleasure of joining them recently for one of their afternoon practices in Overend Mountain Park.
Chad MacCluskey, who has been coaching the team since 2005, and his assistant Jack Turner lead with compassion and caring, creating an environment for success that includes all levels of running ability.
“It’s about being able to provide an environment where kids can be kids and socialize and also take away things for them that feel good,” said MacCluskey. “We just train so much about creating an environment for success.”
The words “support,” “camaraderie” and “fun” resounded among the many young runners that I spoke with. For some this is their first introduction to a team dynamic of this kind.
Twelve-year-old Amaya Holliday is in her third season with the group and credits her running grandfather for inspiring her to give it a try. “The team is just really great and supportive and has really changed my life,” she said. “I plan to continue running through college and beyond.”
Stevi Cameron echoed the same sentiment about the team unity and support. “We are all pretty easy-going and are not trying to prove that we are better than one another, we just strive to be a very supportive team.”
Different running levels aside, this team works out hard and tackles some very steep terrain on a regular basis, frequently running up Hogsback. The joy of trail running and being out in the woods energizes them and makes them appreciate the beauty of Durango.
The day I ran with the team the purpose of the run was to focus on “Where do I live?” and the beauty of nature around our home town.
“Today was fun,” said Cameron. “I love Hogsback because it makes you work really hard. It’s not fun at the moment, but afterwards you feel really good about it. You know, you get to the top and you’re all happy and you get to the bottom and feel like you have accomplished a lot.”
MacCluskey shared a memory from this season that sums up the supportive atmosphere that he and Turner have instilled in these young runners.
“At a recent meet there was a young boy that was at the back of the pack and clearly struggling, so I said to the team, ‘There is a young man out there who needs our support.’
“The entire team came up and ran with him into the finish. Eventually the other teams started cheering him in. Parents were crying as he sprinted into the finish; it was pretty powerful.”
The team meets Monday through Thursday afternoons at Fassbinder Park from 4:15 to 5:30. MacCluskey has also extended the program to include a spring running group. For more information contact MacCluskey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach Marjorie Brinton at email@example.com.