It’s a familiar story arc when it comes to running tales. Jeremiah Allen ran in high school and then for two years in college but never quite took it all that seriously. Then he started doing some local races and training harder and realized the importance of the social aspect which fueled his running and general health.
But in telling his story, Jeremiah mentions matter-of-factly that not once but twice he suffered an illness in which doctors weren’t sure if he’d be able to walk. When he was 6 years old he contracted encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain most commonly caused by a viral infection. The disease returned in a milder form when he was 16. And those early battles are enough to give Jeremiah a lifetime of perspective.
“I was never supposed to be able to walk again and that drove me to get out there and get moving,” he said. “In the beginning, I didn’t think about it too much because I was pretty young, but the second half of high school I started to consider that God had given me this ability to to run and I started using it more. I guess in a way it has encouraged me to work harder. When things really get me feeling down, I can see how blessed I am to be where I am. When I look back at that time, I couldn’t even walk. It didn’t drive me then as much as it does now, especially with two kids to see how blessed and healthy they are.”
As Jeremiah started running more himself, taking on local 5K races and getting into the half marathon distance, he began coaching. A teacher at Mifflinburg MIddle School in Pennsylvania, he is entering his ninth year as a the district’s track and field coach and his third as its cross country coach.
When it comes to the social hierarchy of teenage life, running is often not part of the glamorous cadre of sports. But Jeremiah has helped create a culture on his team where they embrace their sport and have become ambassadors for it.
“We have a saying on our team that says, ‘Your sports punishment is our passion.’ The kids have really embraced that idea,” Jeremiah said. “They’re pretty well-respected by their peers. They’ll talk about workouts they’ve done and that goes a long way because when they hear about the workouts, others will say, ‘There’s no way I can do that. I have so much respect for what you’ve done.’
“When you go out and run at a race, there’s not a large cheering section when you come back. There are no cheerleaders or band at our events. But we’ve built our pride up. Even though it can be a punishment in some ways for other sports, it’s what we do and the kids have embraced it.”
They’ve embraced it, in part, because of Jeremiah’s enthusiasm for the sport and for sharing his passion for running. While coaching and teaching keep Jeremiah from training and racing as much as he would like, he is still active in the local running community and, more importantly, with his team. The workouts are informal over the summer and more directed once school begins in the fall, but by participating himself, he not only gains respect, he helps to motivate and inspire his student-athletes.
“I try to meet them in the summer to go for runs and show them it doesn’t always have to be work,” Jeremiah said. “I want them to see it can be enjoyable and a good social time with friends. We try to do other things, like ultimate frisbee, to get the same workouts in and hopefully they will realize this can be a lifetime event.
“I think the runners respect it to because I can say, ‘Hey, this is the workout’ and then go do it with them.”
And of course every summer is the traditional “beat the coach” 5K.
“Every summer we go to one of the local 5Ks and the kids see if they can beat me,” he said. “It’s a good family kind of thing. We go run for bragging rights for the next year. I think it’s important to do that while i still can. The day will come when I won’t be able to do that anymore, but if I can still do the same workout and still race, I think it’s important for the kids to see that.”
What inspires Jeremiah is the camaraderie of running, whether it’s helping one of his students reach his or her goal or goofing off at the track with his friends. It’s the people which keep him healthy as much as the exercise itself.
“Every kid is different. Some are inspired to win it all and have the talent to do that. Some are inspired by the idea of being able to run in college. For some, just finishing a race without walking may be their goal. You’ve got to set your goals and they’re different for each person and even for each race.
“The social aspect is a huge motivation. I love the people I run with. The other day we ran 40 100s on the track for a friend’s 40th birthday. It was dumb and useless but it was a great time and we just had so much fun doing something we loved with the people we cared about. Why else would you run these ungodly distances unless you were with people you liked?”
By Amy Moritz – you can read more from Amy at: