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A cross-county challenge worthy of national attention

Sudbury is already very well-known as the home of the largest nickel on the planet.

Apparently, folks in these parts have at least one other good reason to be bursting in their britches.

“We found out this summer that we are the largest single day elementary race in Canada,” noted Darren Jermyn recently, the mastermind behind the Laurentian XC Challenge, set to take place on Tuesday, September 24th this year.

“The next biggest, that we could find, is 1600 competitors at an event in Edmonton, and that’s a city with a million people.”

That’s pretty impressive stuff for an initiative that was established with far more modest goals than breaking new ground, from a numbers standpoint, on a national scale.

“It’s a fundraising event for the varsity team here (Laurentian University Voyageurs), and we were looking for something that we could grow,” noted Jermyn of the challenge that was launched in Copper Cliff Park back in 2009, with roughly 350 or so entries representing six to seven different schools.

“It was a natural link for us, a running team to host a running race, and we hoped to grow it over time, but we never had any idea it would get as big as it did.” From a 100% plus increase in year two (900 students), the fall tradition has reached a high water mark of 2100 or so in 2017.

Furthermore, it constitutes something of a rarity in Sudbury, in that the morning long races bring together children from all four school boards in the region, a key factor in pushing the kind of growth that the event has enjoyed.

Beyond that, Jermyn is quick to point out a few other notable contributors. “The focus is really on fun,” he stated. “The course is tough, but not too challenging. It is a running race, at the end of the day, but we call it a “health promotion” event and have teamed up with Heart & Stroke for ten years now.”

“There is an educational component as we try and have a group warm-up with 2000 people,” he laughed.

In fact, there are clearly some obvious pragmatic elements to race organization that must be kept at the forefront in the minds of race officials. For the most part, however, as Jermyn stated proudly, “we kind of have it down to a science now.”

“We can run up to 400 athletes per race,” he added. “I call it the world’s longest finishing chute. To keep all of the athletes in order at the end of the race, you need about a 200 metre finishing chute.” Quite understandably, this makes for a very hectic day for all volunteers involved.

“For our two kilometer race, the top kids might be in around seven minutes, but your average kids are in around ten (minutes) – and they are coming in every half second,” stressed Jermyn. “The trails are fine (with these numbers). They’re wide enough.”

“And we are now able to load and unload 50-60 buses in less than 45 minutes. We’re pretty efficient, and teachers are not nearly as stressed now. It used to be intimidating the first time, as you get dropped off in the morning and have to send your bus away.”

While this new claim to fame is nice, it is the fundraising nature of this venture that is particularly beneficial, especially for a varsity cross-country program that saw substantial cuts to their budget based on the current funding challenges at Laurentian University.

“It was maybe even more important for us, as a varsity team, to have a community involvement,” said Jermyn. “A lot of our team members will interact with elementary students, whether they are in Teacher’s College, or Kinesiology, or whatever.”

“We had moved the races first to Thursday (from the weekend) and then to Tuesday, to give our varsity team, which does a lot of the prep work for race day, the time to recover before their own races on the weekend. We have to groom the trails, bring in a lot of equipment and a lot of food. We’re bigger than OFSAA.”

“The crew at Lockerby Composite (Kerry Abols and company) has been great,” Jermyn noted. “For ten years now, they have been providing us with 30 to 40 volunteer marshalls. And our adult marshalls that come out each and every year think it’s just a wonderful day.”

Certainly, some of the fastest youngsters in the field will garner a certain amount of publicity. Jermyn, for one, is quick to caution the parent who interprets their child’s first place finish in the grade 3-4 challenge race as a sure sign that their tickets for the 2032 Summer Olympics should be purchased soon.

“We know that with running, children change significantly from grade six to grade twelve,” he said. “I will tell every parent who contacts me, and Dick Moss does the same, that (long distance) running is one of the sports that you want to start later in life. We don’t seriously coach kids until they are in about grade eight or grade nine.”

And though the reasons might be many, there is little doubt that the XC Challenge has connected with Sudbury and area youth. “One year, we jumped in with “Jump Rope for Heart”, and gave out 1200 skipping ropes,” recalled Jermyn. “We gave them out at the start of the day and had 1200 kids skipping rope on this track.”

“The kids get a little giddy when they get out here. They want to exercise, and that’s really what the day is all about.”

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