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Local running club keeps kids active

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan

Sam Dontu, left, and Nathan Calhoun were among the 250 members from the Dacula Cluster Running Club who train two times a week for the Peachtree Junior Road Race at Piedmont Park in Atlanta this Saturday. The children who are students from Dacula Elementary and Mulberry Elementary ran two miles on Dacula Elementary property Monday.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Sam Dontu, left, and Nathan Calhoun were among the 250 members from the Dacula Cluster Running Club who train two times a week for the Peachtree Junior Road Race at Piedmont Park in Atlanta this Saturday. The children who are students from Dacula Elementary and Mulberry Elementary ran two miles on Dacula Elementary property Monday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Over 250 kids from the Dacula Cluster Running Club stretch prior to their run in preparation for the Peachtree Junior Road Race at Piedmont Park in Atlanta this Saturday. The children, who are students from Dacula Elementary and Mulberry Elementary, run two miles on Dacula Elementary property Monday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Diana Majors concludes her two mile run as Natalie Tucker calls out her time while training on the Dacula Elementary School property Monday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Emily Kalec and Nicole Farren of the Dacula Cluster Running Club train for the Peachtree Junior Road Race at Piedmont Park in Atlanta being held this Saturday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Jeremy Nelson, Samantha Nelson, Hayden McGrath, Cole Roundtree, Drew Hartsog and Tanner Rodriguez all from the Dacula Cluster Running Club stretch prior to their two mile run in preparation for the Peachtree Junior Road Race at Piedmont Park in Atlanta this Saturday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Dacula physical education teacher Bob Tucker helps students from the Dacula Cluster Running Club train two times a week for the Peachtree Junior Road Race at Piedmont Park in Atlanta being held this Saturday. Tucker has been coaching the running club since 1996.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Kyle Efford, Cole Roundtree, Tanner Rodriguez, Gregory Crabb and Natalie Cranney all from the Dacula Cluster Running Club train for the Peachtree Junior Road Race at Piedmont Park in Atlanta this Saturday. The children, who are students from Dacula Elementary and Mulberry Elementary, run two miles on Dacula Elementary property Monday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Gregory Crabb, 7, right, and Jackson Vannus, 7, listen to their headphones while watching a video on their iPod prior to training for the Peachtree Junior Road Race at Piedmont Park in Atlanta being held this Saturday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Dacula Physical Education teacher Bob Tucker, bottom right, leads more than 250 kids from the Dacula Cluster Running Club with yelling "Running Rocks" after their training session at Dacula Elementary School on Monday.

DACULA -- Eleven-year-old Ethan Selph can conquer all comers when his sneakers pound the pavement. Long legs striding, arms pumping, the boy can clear a mile in six minutes, 12 seconds.

Why does he run so fast, and how does he do it? It's simple, really.

"I just do it," Selph said, shrugging his shoulders. "I like to run."

The boy is part of a group of more than 250 elementary school students from the Dacula area, who are spending the next several days in preparation for the Peachtree Junior Road Race, which is Saturday at Piedmont Park in Atlanta.

It's one of several area races the Dacula Cluster Running Club will tackle this year in the name of fighting obesity and staying fit. At the helm is club coach Bob Tucker, who has been holding weekly practice sessions more than a decade for Dacula and Mulberry elementary students interested in running races.

Tucker said the team has grown larger every year, with this particular group topping all others with its attendance of about 250 from Dacula Elementary and about 20 from Mulberry. Over the past several years, Tucker's team has been the largest single group at the Peachtree Junior.

"Obesity is on the rise," said Tucker prior to Monday's practice. "We're trying to make this a turning point for these kids. We want to reach out and make a difference."

Tucker said novice and professional runners alike volunteer to help out twice a week during the club's practice. Among them: former NFL Defensive Back Bruce Plummer.

Plummer -- whose children Madison and Mia also run -- said he enjoys "helping the kids. Being an athlete all my life, I love seeing the kids grow in their endurance. I want them to learn that through dedication, you can do anything. Through believing in yourself, you can do anything."

Dawn Kerchner, the mother of 11-year-old Cullen, said she appreciates the positive message that staying active instills in her son.

"It's good for him to get exercise, and he loves it," she said.

Maggie Russell, an 8-year-old-marathon-runner-in-training, said she enjoys the exercise aspect too, and "spending time with friends" is icing on the cake.

Eleven-year-olds Maddie Hartsog and Helena Price can attest to that. The Dacula Cluster Running Club is where they first met two years ago, and they've been great friends ever since.

Jaylen Drummond, another 11-year-old member of the club, said when he's out there running at top speeds, he only thinks about one thing: "the finish."

And why does he do it?

"It makes me happy. It just feels good to run."