What started as a father-son training session on the track has bloomed into a year-round youth running group that’s gaining traction at a rapid pace and setting records around town. Gotta Run Kids and Great Strides work to familiarize children with running, along with all the sport’s positive results. Greg Patterson, founder, utilized his background in running to train his son and some of his classmates over six years ago. From there, parents recognized Patterson’s knowledge of the sport and training methodologies and showed interest in involving their children with running. Now, children from Alpharetta, Forsyth, Johns Creek, Suwanee and surrounding areas are actively choosing to participate, and Patterson regularly sees between 70-90 kids per season.
“I want to continue growing this program because I see what it does for them,” Patterson said. “Anyone can run. I want these kids to be able to leave the program, stick with running and feel better about themselves as a result.”
In 2010, the first session of Gotta Run Kids, 40 kids hit the pavement in the fall season, and many of these runners returned year after year, bringing along classmates and neighbors. Through their noticeable progress, Patterson developed Great Strides, a cross country team for slightly older runners who desire to be competitive and continue progressing in the sport. Recognized as one of the most successful cross country teams in the state, Great Strides feeds runners into their high school teams, thus making the sport even stronger.
Runners like Morgan Grace Sheffield, from the Alpharetta area, acknowledge that her passion for the sport has grown since beginning the training regimen with Great Strides. As an avid runner prior to the program, she’s now found a lifelong sport and is hopeful to compete through high school and college.
“I enjoyed running before the program, but I did not know that I would grow to love it as much as I do,” Sheffield said.
Patterson discusses the benefits of running, yet he also notices that the program encourages a healthier lifestyle, both on and off the track. He encourages a safe environment that’s well- controlled and enjoyable.
“It’s a family environment, and we don’t need to win or compete against each other,” Patterson said. “We’re a family, and we love everybody else we are with.”
By bringing out young athletes who would have never attempted the sport, Patterson is growing the community and promoting positive values that even parents are recognizing.
“He has a clear talent for coaching and is able to bring out the best in his individual runners while always promoting good sportsmanship and a strong team bond,” Laura Chapman, mother of two participants in Great Strides said. “These kids are not just running. They are also building lasting friendships, learning to deal with success and disappointment, learning the value of working hard and trying your best, and learning to work together as a team and support one another.”
Mia Massie from Johns Creek, who always had an interest in running, is learning the fundamentals of the sport that she may not have learned elsewhere. Breathing tactics and correct form are among the key lessons she notices. She also sees that Patterson encourages cheering and a team environment, which makes this individual sport all the more fun.
Arnav Pareek learned about the program through a school friend and chose to try to sport, even though he did not enjoy running. Now, he’s feeling stronger and more motivated than ever and even notes that “it has become [his] favorite sport!”
Both Colin and Emily Chapman from the Alpharetta area have pushed each other as siblings and teammates through both programs. They qualified for the USATF Junior Olympics National Cross Country Championships in December, along with many of their teammates.
Practices take place at Chattahoochee Pointe and Windermere Park, of the Forsyth County Parks and Recreation department. During the eight-week program, runners will complete three timed miles to encourage development and improvement, no matter their pace. With stretching, discussion, alternating distance runs, and cool downs among the practices, runners are learning fundamentals for a lifelong sport.