​Grundy County Schools Run Clubs: A Sport Where Everyone Can Participate

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
“Everyone can walk or run,” said Grundy County Schools Health Coordinator Mary Jo Gallagher explaining the impetus that led to the Grundy County elementary schools hosting run clubs. Four years ago, Pelham Elementary School started a run club in response to a recommendation from the Tennessee Health Commission. A federal 1305 grant provided financial support for the program, which has since expanded to include an annual 5K race. This year’s race on April 21 signifies a milestone for the program: every elementary school in Grundy County will have a run club participating.
The Grundy County Health Council partnered with the Grundy County Schools to launch the program. “The health council had been chosen to be a recipient of 1305 funding, and we used that to get some 5K clubs up and running,” said Tonya Garner who served as the GCHC facilitator at the time. “We’d identified the need for activities other than organized sports for kids to participate in to get them active, and we thought that 5K clubs would be a great place to start.”
The federal 1305 grant program offers all 50 states funding to help prevent and control diabetes, heart disease, obesity and associated risk factors and to promote school health. The run clubs held their first 5K three years ago. The runners travel a 3.1 mile stretch on the Mountain Goat Trail between Sewanee and Pearl’s Foggy Mountain Café.
The Mountain Goat Trail Alliance (MGTA) recently received a $317,000 Project Diabetes grant to help complete a section of trail between Monteagle and Tracy City. The health component of the grant supports the Grundy County Health Council with the money directed into the run clubs program. The funding pays for singlets with the runners’ school name, transportation, and a meal following the race, said MGTA Executive Director Patrick Dean.
The Tennessee Department of Health provides the clubs with a Run Club Tool Kit, Gallagher said. In the six-week program, students learn warm-up stretches, the importance of hydrations, how to dress for the weather, and other tips like using sunscreen. The age limit is left up to the sponsoring school. All participating students must have a physical.
The clubs meet one or two times a week. Faculty sponsors coordinate activities in most of the clubs, but in some parent volunteers play an active role. This year for the first time the schools had the opportunity to offer the program in both the fall and spring semesters. “We only have one big event, though,” Gallagher noted, “and that’s the 5K run on April 21.”
Students work their way up to running a 5K by starting out walking three minutes and running one in the opening training days, said Tracy City Elementary coach Jan Roberts. As race day approaches, the training activity is four minutes of nonstop running.
The April 21 race starts at 9 a.m., with trophies awarded for first, second and third places in four categories: girls, grades one through five; boys, grades one through five; girls, grades six–eight; and boys, grades six–eight.
Winning the race isn’t what the run clubs are about, though. “Playing basketball and baseball is great,” Garner said, “but after you get out of school most kids normally stop playing. You teach a kid to have a love for running and you have set them up for a life of health and fitness. That’s our goal.”