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On any given Friday afternoon, you can spot athletes of all ages, dressed in every color of the rainbow, dashing across campus and through the woods, doing what they love to do: run.
Most of these athletes are students, some as young as 5 or 6, and others are coaches, including Head of School John Fixx, Assistant Head of School Beth Coyne, and Spanish teacher Blair Lachance, for whom running has long been a way of life. Several are also parents, who perhaps initially joined the athletes to help out and get a little exercise themselves. For some of these parents, though, these afternoons with the “Flying Owlets” have evolved into a little more than a pastime or way to share a sport with their kids.
Take the example of Edina Torgyekes. Last March she joined her son, Miklosh, a member of the Middle School cross country team, to run the Marco Island Half Marathon. Miklosh finished the course a little before his mom, earning a 3rd place medal in his age group, but they both crossed it in good time.
Or consider Keith Goodman, who began lacing up his running shoes on a regular basis about a year ago because his son, Gabriel, then a 5th Grader, and daughter, Laila, then a 2nd Grader, wanted to do a little extra training to get ready for Cross Country Junior Olympics. The training, both with their dad and with Coaches Fixx, Coyne, and Lachance, apparently went well; after qualifying at Junior Olympics Regionals, Laila went on to compete at Junior Olympics Nationals in Reno, Nevada, along with three other Country School teammates — Sam, Connor, and Keve. Laila finished 8th out of 168 girls in her 7-8 year old age group, earning All America Status. Gabriel previously competed at Nationals as well.
Below, Keith with Laila after this year's home Country School Cross Country Invitational, where Laila came in 2nd behind an 8th Grader from Foote after leading the race until the very end. (Click here for more about the Country School Invitational and here for more about Laila at Nationals.)
With his two youngest children as his running examples (his oldest, Nadia, a 7th Grader, prefers competitive sailing), Keith decided to test the competitive running waters himself, running a half marathon in New London in scorching mid-August heat. On Sunday, he will test those waters again, when he runs the New York City Marathon. You can follow his bib #33564 on the TCS Marathon app.
Asked about the genesis of running for him personally, Keith said it all started with his kids and The Country School. “It’s very recent for me,” Keith said. “It boils down to Laila and Gabriel being so young and getting into running at The Country School and having to go with them because they wanted to practice more than just at school and just after school. It started with a mile or two here or there.”
Running wasn’t necessarily something that came naturally to him. “I always hated running when I was growing up,” said Keith, who was a competitive soccer player through high school. “I did it when I had to for soccer or whatever sport I had going on at the time.”
At some point, though, about eight or nine months ago, things started to change. Keith spoke to Coach Fixx, who offered training advice. “I started getting to distances that were allowing me to have some time to myself, allowing me to feel changes in my body, that were allowing me to feel healthier in my mind as well,” he said. “So it sparked an interest and then the competitive side started to come out. I started to run faster and I started to eat healthier and I started to watch youtube videos about running. So really in 11 months period of time I went from running a mile or two, struggling to keep up with Laila and Gabriel. That’s truly it. In less than a year I’ve gone from the couch to 5K.”
And now on to the NYC Marathon, where Keith will be running to support a Grenada-based nonprofit called Reach Within, which also has a Country School connection. A while back a friend of Mr. Fixx asked him if he knew of someone who might want to run the marathon in support of the nonprofit, which works to end the epidemic of child abuse and neglect by getting to the root of childhood trauma. Mr. Fixx mentioned it to Keith, and Keith thought it would be a good fit. (Click here to learn more.)
Country School community members supported Keith’s Reach Within effort a few weeks ago, joining the Goodmans for dinner in Old Saybrook at Pizza Works, which generously donated a percentage of proceeds from their orders that night to his Reach Within undertaking.
Of course, there’s also a great symbolic element to Keith running the marathon on behalf of an organization called “Reach Within.” Sharing this running experience with his family and the long training runs on his own have him philosophizing a bit about the personal qualities and habits running requires, things like preparation, perseverance, resilience, and – yes – reaching within. “It’s just like the kids studying for a test,” he said. “You can’t wait for Saturday or Sunday for the Monday morning. You have to prepare and understand how much effort is involved to get there.”
Keith and his wife, Selma, talk about these ideas with Nadia, Gabriel, and Laila. “That’s what we keep trying to instill in them,” he said. “Anything is possible if they study or they train or if they prepare themselves. … Buying the really fast racing shoes isn’t going to get you in front of that person you’re trying to beat.”
The Country School community is filled with people who model preparation, endurance, and perseverance, Keith said, mentioning Nicole Burke, the school’s Development Director and English teacher, who recently completed her first Ironman, and alumnus Robbie Cozean ’16, who mentored Keith’s kids when he was at The Country School and is now one of the top — if not the absolute top — high school cross country runners in Connecticut and one of the fastest in the country. Robbie has just committed to run in college at Notre Dame.
Keith is grateful to The Country School, not only for what it has done for his children both in and outside the classroom, but for the sense of community it has brought to his whole family. “I feel like an Owlet — I’m like a 1st Grader out there,” he said, recalling a recent article he saw about older students running alongside younger students as they ran their first mile, encouraging them to dig deep and just keep going. “That’s what I think is special about what we’re getting to experience with running at The Country School. Running is just the avenue that gets that type of thought or that type of passion into kids. … Running is the platform, and we’re lucky to have it.”
Speaking of luck, good luck this weekend, Keith! We’ll all be following and cheering for bib #33564!
A Little More About Running in the Family:
You can’t really talk about “running in the family” at The Country School without mentioning Head of School/Running Coach John Fixx and his father, the late Jim Fixx, who popularized the sport of running in the ’70s with his best selling book, The Complete Book of Running. Perhaps inspired by his father, our own Mr. Fixx discovered a love of running as a child, competing in high school and at college at Wesleyan University, where he served as captain of both the cross country and track teams. He has several marathons under his belt and runs daily, if not with students then on his own. Only last weekend, he ran a half marathon. To read more about Mr. Fixx and his family connection to running, check out the following stories:
Mr. Fixx also reminds us that the first cross country team was started by alumnus Jordan Katz '99 when he was a student, with Mr. Fixx serving as coach. To continue the "family" theme, Jordan's father, Lee, served as a timer during the recent Country School Invitational race. Jordan, who rowed in high school at St. Paul's and college at Princeton, now lives in Boston with his family and works in finance.
For Mrs. Coyne, one of Mr. Fixx's, cross-country coaching colleagues, running has also been a family affair. She came to coaching, in part, through her son, Joseph '15, who ran and captained cross country at The Country School, later running at Choate, and her daughter, Maggie '18, who ran and captained the team at The Country School and is now on the crew and basketball teams at Miss Porter's. As for Coach Coyne, she will face her next personal running challenge this weekend, when she joins other members of the Country School community to run the APK Charities 5K (click here for more).
For Senora/Coach Lachance, running has also been a long-standing venture. She arrived at The Country School already an accomplished runner, and when she had just started coaching cross country here, she "carried" her Country School family with her when she ran the Hartford half-marathon. Specifically she wore a t-shirt signed by her runners. "It only seemed fitting to run with my students, and so I had them sign my t-shirt, which I wore through 13.1 very rainy miles," she wrote in a blog about the race and her experiences coaching at The Country School. Senora Lachance's fellow Spanish teacher, Senora Adriana Castillo, is also a triathlete/Ironman.
We also give a shout out to Athletic Director Chris Wallack, who, year after year, supports the Flying Owlets and overall cross country program along with our other athletic offerings. His flexibility and willingness to let kids play multiple sports allows everyone to grow, including our youngest athletes on the Owlets and our 3rd and 4th Grade soccer teams. “Beth, Blair and I could not do what we do without Chris Wallack‘s vision, support and organization,” Mr. Fixx said.
And here's a final shout out to one other Country School "family" member, alumnus Jordan Glassman '09, who will be joining Keith and thousands of other runners this Saturday in the NYC Marathon. Jordan, a standout soccer player at The Country School, Suffield Academy, and Kenyon College, traded in his cleats for running shoes after graduating from college. He'll be running his first marathon to support Kulen Outreach, an organization dedicated to improving education in Cambodia, where he traveled recently. Learn more about Jordan's venture here. Best of luck to you too, Jordan! Run, Owls, run!