Niles’ girls cross country coach introduces kids to the sport through his running camp.

Published 8:42 pm Friday, July 23, 2004

By By ADAM FISHER / Niles Daily Star
As the girls cross country coach at Niles High School and an avid runner, Dan VandenHeede sees running as a lifetime sport.
Because anyone can enjoy running at anytime, he said, he wants to get kids involved in the sport at a young age. To do so, VandenHeede puts on a youth cross country camp to teach elementary and middle school students the basics of running.
About 20 kids, ages 8-12, attended the camp, which wraps up today. The runners represented elementary and middle schools from all over the area.
While some of the camps' participants are there to learn the fundamentals of running, others come to stay in shape.
Knoll, who has been running since first grade, participates in a few races a year, he said. He plans to run cross country once he reaches middle school.
Other runners are at VandenHeede's camp to train for the future.
One of the reasons Kumar got into running is because he mother used to run marathons.
The camp's youngest runner is 8-year-old Gaige Nichols. He said he doesn't mind being the youngest and has no problem staying with the older kids.
This is the third year VandenHeede has put on the cross country camp. It is part of a series of youth camps Niles High School coaches put on for young athletes.
VandenHeede conducts the camp at Riverfront Park for one week. He has his pupils run the trail that goes around the river. Some run up to four miles, while others go two.
During the week, VandenHeede encourages the kids to participate in the 5K run that is part of Riverfest. He said three or four of the kids from his camp participated in the run last year.
To expose the young runners to the distance of the Riverfest run, VandenHeede marks out five kilometers on the Riverfront trail and has them run it on the final day of the camp.
VandenHeede is assisted by some of Niles' cross country runners. He's even had some graduates of the program come back and help with the beginning runners.
Merrilee Wuthrow graduated two years ago and now attends Kansas State. But she came back to the camp this year to work with the youth.
While VandenHeede stresses cross country running to the camps' participants, he also tries to teach the kids different aspects of running track.
One day, a Niles runner came to the camp and showed the kids how to use starting blocks. Another day, VandenHeede taught them how to run relays.
VandenHeede said even if the young runners don't compete in cross country or track, he hopes they continue to run and stay in shape.