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Middle schoolers take to streets of Dixon for summer

Pack runners

This group of Reagan Middle School runners takes to the streets of Dixon 4 days a week to hone their craft. They'll compete as a team in the Reagan Run 5K on Saturday.
This group of Reagan Middle School runners takes to the streets of Dixon 4 days a week to hone their craft. They'll compete as a team in the Reagan Run 5K on Saturday.

For many, the Reagan Run 5K is the final destination, the ultimate goal, the culmination of weeks or months of training, the payoff for a lot of hard work.

But for a small group of middle schoolers, it's just the halfway mark of a summer filled with running.

Over the last 5 years, Reagan Middle School runners could be seen on morning throughout the summer, running through various parts of Dixon. It's the brainchild of RMS cross country coach Evan Thorpe, a way to keep his young athletes involved in running throughout summer break.

This year, Thorpe has taken the program one step further. Once open to "all comers," as Thorpe puts it, this year's group of runners includes just 25 invitees looking to build their running résumé.

"By last year, we had 70 or 80 kids, and it was draining and taxing on our volunteer helpers, because the kids would be strung out all over town," Thorpe said. "So this year, we invited 25 kids to run 4 days a week all summer long.

"This is the next generation of Dixon runners who are ready to take that next step in their training."

The group starts and ends each day's run at the Dixon YMCA. They've already got a month of running under their belts, including a race in Yorkville in early June.

Some have been here since the beginning of the program; others since the start of their middle school days.

"When I first started, there weren't that many people," said Collin Grady, who will be an eighth grader in the fall. "But it's blossomed since then. We all talked to other people and got them into it, then they did the same thing.

"It's always more fun when you've got friends to run with. It helps you keep pace better, and makes the run go quicker."

One of the others Grady and his buddies talked to was Madi Blumhoff, another eighth-grader-to-be. This is her fourth year of running summers, and she also likes the team bonding aspect of things.

"It's really grown, and the best part are the friends I make and the joy of running and having fun as a team," Blumhoff said. "Sometimes I like running on my own, but it's definitely nice to have somebody to talk to when you're running."

The group has participated in the Reagan Run since its inception, with Thorpe usually biking around the course to different checkpoints throughout the race to keep an eye on his young charges, and provide encouragement and a friendly face.

Grady is a Reagan Run veteran, having run in the race with his family since he was 6 years old. When breaking down the race, he sounds like a much more mature competitor.

"You set a goal for the first mile, then you go from there," Grady said. "Every year, my time has improved by 2 minutes, I want to run my best time again this year."

Whether he knew it or not, Grady was the role model for Blumhoff to get involved with the Reagan Run.

"When I was younger, I saw Collin running in it, and I thought it would be fun to be out there in the big race as a kid," she said. "My dad runs it, and me and my brother both run it now, and my mom will walk it.

"It's a nice race, a lot of fun; the only thing I don't like is that it's usually really hot, and there are some steep hills."

Blumhoff's goals are a little more ambitious than just a personal best.

"I want to beat my dad," she said, a broad smile splayed across her face. "I definitely want to do better than him and my brother … and I'm getting pretty close to catching my dad."

Grady sees the Reagan Run as a source of pride, not only for his hometown, but for his RMS team as well. That's something Thorpe has made a selling point for the Petunia Fest's 5K to his young runners.

"Sometimes kids, especially high schoolers, are leery of running an event like this in the middle of their summer training," said Thorpe, who himself ran in Polo's race recently. "But I tell these kids that this is our opportunity to showcase our sport and show off our group to the community, and give them a taste of cross country in Dixon."

Reagan Run 5K

When: 8 a.m. Saturday

Where: Streets and woods of Dixon (starts at Reagan home and ends at Haymarket Square)

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