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Kilometers for Kicks

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Article by Adriane Taylor

Photography by Janie Jones

Originally published in Johnson County Lifestyle

The world of sports has a competitive drive that has been known to cause athletes to seek the extreme in efforts to come out on top. Playing on opponents’ weaknesses and focusing only on the win is common, so it may seem a rarity to find competitors who truly believe in the greater good of the game. Those rare players can be found in the Olathe North High School Cross Country Eagles who took it upon themselves to illustrate what ideal sportsmanship is all about: fairness, principle and goodness.

For eight cross country seniors at this Olathe school, succeeding as athletes is more than outperforming their rivals -- it also includes supporting one another. After noticing that many of their opponents (especially those from lower-income schools) were running in low-quality shoes, team members Ahmad Akkam, Brian Beach, Jackson Caldwell, Joey Guzman, Cade Heikes, James Houlahan, Jack Spanel, and Jordan Yonce decided to even the playing field. 

“We all wanted to do something to give back to the community as well as share something we love with the public. We felt the best way to do that was to organize a community 5K,” says Jack Spanel. “Running is what brought us together, and we are all passionate about sharing our love of running.”

Jordan Yance says that the idea first came to the athletes near the end of their sophomore year after observing their opponents’ gear.

“Instead of [wearing] running shoes, these kids were running in basketball shoes or Converse,” Yonce says. “Quality running shoes provide far greater protection from injury and improve running efficiency, making the sport of running far more enjoyable for participants. We decided to create the event to ensure that underprivileged students would not have to worry about the high prices of these shoes and instead enjoy the safety and comfort they provide. A 5K was the perfect way to give back to the running community as it would allow us to raise sufficient funds to aid many in need as well as spreading awareness of an often overlooked issue in our community.”

The first step the team took was partnering with Don and Leslie Nottberg and their charity, Shoe Kansas City, the largest shoe donation organization in Kansas City. They helped guide them through the entire process of organizing a 5K. After getting approval of the course and event, they contacted area businesses for possible sponsorship as well as a race-timing company to assist in the setup and the timing for the race. All that was left was finalizing plans for the event and the actual race. In their first year they were able to raise $4000.

Kilometers for Kicks is putting this money to great use by providing equipment and shoes to area metro schools. But even beyond this, these young men are connecting to their community.

“Giving back is important to me because running changed my life,” Spanel says. “I came into [my] freshman year with only a few close friends, and the cross country team allowed me to meet the greatest group of friends I could ever imagine. I want to make sure everyone has the same opportunity I had freshman year to be able to meet great people and participate in the great sport of cross country regardless of whether or not they can afford proper running shoes.”

James Houlahan agrees: “Running has given us so much as far as lasting relationships and an opportunity to be a part of a team and a family. We wanted as many people as possible to have the same experiences that we did, and the best way to do that is to give the most important part of running, the shoes. At the end of the day, if we could just help one kid, we are as happy as can be.”

Yonce says the race was able to help bring the community together to rally behind a cause: “It showed us that we can make a difference even though we are just a small group of kids. Competition is only one facet of running. The opportunity to have fun, to create friendships, and to develop into a better person is far more important than winning. No one should be denied these things or safe and quality shoes, no matter if they are our teammate or our opponent.”

The athletes plan to keep the event going in the future and are currently working on next year’s race. They visualize the event growing from year to year and being able to reach more schools and students in need through this fundraiser that directly unites their passion to a cause.

At a time when young people may be viewed as self-centered and unaware of the world around them, these stellar young men have proven the opposite by possessing a sense of fellowship with their competitors. They saw a necessity, combined it with their natural abilities, and created something incredible for their community. This is spot-on sportsmanship.

To donate, volunteer, or if you know any high school or middle school runner who cannot afford quality shoes or equipment, please contact: kilometersforkicks@gmail.com

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