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.
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."