Chicago's next generation

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Bowerman Track Club inspire the youth of the city

We’re parked up at a local Burger King, sitting in an early 1980’s Volkswagen Vanagon,and waiting for our call to head to Jones College Prep School in Chicago. Almost folded into the back are Evan Jager, Colleen Quigley, Ryan Hill, and Kate Grace - aka some of the finest runners in the United States. The group are discussing workouts - not for themselves, but for a high school cross country program that are about to receive a surprise visit from Bowerman Track Club.

We’re here on the first of 5 high school visits the BTC will make this week, as part of a Nike program designed to make running more accessible, and to inspire future athletes. At the end of the week the schools will come together to race the High School Relays @ Nike’s Pop Up Relay Finale at Soldier Field, where they’ll be paired with a BTC coach for the evening.

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“I’m excited to meet some Chicago kids and see what the running program is like coming out of Chicago.”

Evan Jager

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Chicago is a city with a rich sporting culture. For one, it’s famously home to the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan - a legacy that looms large over the city and has no doubt been influencing kids here since the ‘90’s, both in terms of picking up a basketball and what shoes to wear - J’s are everywhere here. On top of that, the Chicago Bears are one of the most famous franchises in American Football, with rabid fans and the impressive Soldier Field sitting just a stone’s throw from downtown.

Add the inhospitable weather to the mix, and taking up running can be a tough sell for kids here. The sport is unglamorous at the best of times, but when your track is a city block, it’s understandable when the youth choose to hoop indoors.

These are some of the reasons why Nike Chicago and Bowerman Track Club are out here this week visiting schools. For Nike, it’s a chance to close the loop on all the work they’re doing on running in the city - with groups like Second City Track Club, GumboFit, and the Windrunners all making their mark on Chicago, this program shows inner city kids that running can be a valuable part of their future; whether that’s as a career choice or just for the lessons it teaches us.

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For the BTC athletes, this is an opportunity to connect with their younger selves, and an opportunity they never had growing up. Evan Jager, who grew up in the suburbs of Illinois, remembers what athlete visits were like when he was in high school.

“I didn’t even really know what pro running was when I was in high school. When I was a senior in high school, our coach, who was quite young - he had just graduated from college a year or two earlier, had one of his old teammates who was running post-collegiately come out and visit us. And I thought that was a big deal.”

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The Jones College Prep school XC program has approximately 50 boys and 40 girls, and the whole squad is surprised and excited to see BTC turn up to guest coach today.

The workout is a 3 mile tempo, a shorter version of a BTC staple workout according to Kate Grace, “A progression tempo is a staple Bowerman workout that we do year round, so it’s cool to be sharing it today with these young athletes.”

As the kids split into their workout groups, carefully watched over by the athletes, Coach Andrew Adelmann explains what it means, “It’s something they’ll remember for a long time. For them to have pro runners come out and spend time with them is a real exciting moment, and you don’t always get a lot of those in this sport.”

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It’s not just workouts that BTC are trying to share with students this week. A big part of success - running or otherwise, comes from goal setting - which is not an instinctive skill for a lot of kids growing up. As the athletes share their own goals (hint - they’re generally centered around Tokyo 2020), they explain the process to small clusters of students.

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Fresh off her 8th place in the 10,000m at the IAAF World Championships in Doha just days earlier, Marielle Hall spoke about the importance of goal setting. For some of the students, who struggled to articulate or come up with an immediate running goal, Hall was quick to point out that goal setting is a life skill that can be applied to anything, not just running.

“I think goal setting and having a vision for yourself allows for progress and gives you the opportunity to see more for yourself.”

"Sometimes when you’re young you don’t realise the opportunities that are out there for you and unless you take the time to reflect and ask something of yourself, you can get stuck in your circumstance and in a mindset that may not be positive."

Marielle Hall

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Another school we visit does their fartlek workout on the sidewalk around the block, in a neighborhood on the fringe of the city. While the bends are sharp, it does highlight one of the great advantages running should have over other sports; its accessibility. Kids are running their workout in all sorts of gear - basketball shoes, track pants, you name it.

For pro Ryan Hill it's a reminder that running can be so simple.

“We’ve been to two high schools that don’t even have a track. A lot of us grew up at high schools that had tracks and all the schools we competed against had tracks, and you are around it so long in college and as a pro that you take it for granted."

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“Really, you don’t even need a track. Run where you are, do your workout wherever you can. So hopefully these kids are seeing that, you know, they can do anything they want to, they don’t necessarily need a track.”

Ryan Hill

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One of the real advantages of having BTC come out this week isn’t the running stuff at all. It’s not the workouts, it’s not the drills, it’s not even the words of encouragement they offer as kids get through their workouts (though those things do help). It’s the simple act of being there, of investing in young people who might not always feel or see that investment. When Colleen braids a girls hair after practice, or Kate Grace walks with a boy who can’t get through the workout, there’s a moment of meaningful connection. It’s a statement that says ‘hey, we’re here for you. For you as a person - to show you that if you believe in yourself and have a goal, running can teach you a lot. It can give you a lot of tools you might need someday’.

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On Friday night, all of these schools will come together and race at Nike’s Pop Up Race Relays. Sure, they’re competing against one another, but this race is also an important lesson - that it doesn’t always have to be about workouts and track running and times. Sometimes running can be an urban race on a Friday night - with loud music, people cheering, and some pros coming out for you. Running can be whatever you want it to be...that’s the lesson for these kids.

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