Byron Center Christian School
Most kids have certain milestones that they look forward to—from turning 5 years old and being able to go to kindergarten to turning 10 years old and saying that they’re no longer kids anymore. The students at Byron Center Christian School are no different; however, some of the students have another milestone that not many kids their age (or many adults) have: completing a 5k.
The Roots of Running
In 2007, a group of moms wanted to start a running club for their daughters at Byron Center Christian School. They got the idea from Girls on the Run, a nonprofit program that inspires young girls to live a healthy lifestyle. The moms, however, wanted the running club to be different from Girls on the Run by integrating one key component: faith. Kori VanderKooi, former Spanish professor at Calvin, is one of the many moms who help out with the running club today. VanderKooi says the mission of the running club from the start, was to be a "club that would give girls a chance to run and connect with their moms and each other but in a distinctively Christian context.” The club started out with 20 girls and their mothers running and doing devotions together. Today, the club has two subgroups (split between gender) and now consists of 78 boys and girls. The running club participates in various races in the Grand Rapids area such as the River Bank Run and, of course, the Calvin 5k Spring Classic.
Although the kids were running and having fun during club, the moms noticed that the kids weren’t running outside of club. To encourage running outside of club, VanderKooi and the moms decided to have incentives for the kids. It first started with a small gift for every mile that a kid ran outside of club, but VanderKooi knew that wasn’t fun enough. Last year, she came up with the idea of a virtual run around Lake Michigan. She calculated the miles and if each student ran 26.2 miles, the group would successfully run around Lake Michigan—it gave the students a goal, individually and collectively. The running club was also able to get prizes to give to the kids if they reached certain checkpoints (i.e. fudge when they reached Mackinac Island, cream cheese when they reached Wisconsin, etc.). They were able to reach the goal, and this year they have their eyes set on the happiest place on earth: Disney World (the club has reached Atlanta so far).
I asked VanderKooi what she and the other moms want the kids to leave with when they’re done with the running club, and this is what she said:
We want a context to help them grow in their walk with God. Running has been a time of talking to God. As they run, they can talk to God and lean on Him. We want the kids to love running but love God more. As He gives them strength for running, He’ll give them strength for whatever else they’re facing in life.