University City

Harrisburg Runners club has 2 girls at major event

Eight-year old Gillian Terry and 10-year old Lauren Richards enjoy other sports besides track and field. But there are reasons why the Harrisburg girls think that running is special.

“I get to run with friends and it makes my body feel good,” said Gillian.

“I like the feeling of the wind in my face,” added Lauren.

Competition is secondary to some of running’s simple pleasures. Still, the two members of the upstart Harrisburg Runners program have run to the forefront of their sport. This week, both are participating in the USA Track and Field Junior Olympic national championship meet in Greensboro.

Terry is competing in the 8-under sub-bantam age group in the 1500 meter run. Richards is running both the 1500-meters and 800-meters in the 8-10 year old bantam age division.

This is their first year of competition, as it is for their running club. The Harrisburg Runners includes mostly youth from Harrisburg, 7 to 18 years old.

“Gillian has shown a lot of leadership for being such a young person,” said Jennifer Duft, Harrisburg Runners head coach. “None of the children on our team have true speed that it takes to be a sprinter. But in middle to long distance, I think she’s going to be fantastic.

“Lauren is a well-rounded athlete. To qualify in nationals in cross country and then in track with the limited number of workouts she’s done, it’s crazy talent.”

Functioning as a Harrisburg Park and Recreation program, the Harrisburg Runners first competed in last fall’s cross country season. With 46 participants, program leaders decided to extend its reach to the track and field season this spring and summer.

Harrisburg Runners was founded by Dana Sbardella, Dianna Inman and Duft. All three women have children in the program.

The team trains three times a week and has Hickory Ridge Middle School, Frank Liske Park, and Phar Mill Road Park among its practice facilities.

In the 2012 cross country season, the Harrisburg Runners participated in only two meets prior to the N.C. USATF state meet. Despite the inexperience, Richards placed second in her age group.

Out of the N.C. USATF competition, 26 Harrisburg Runners advanced to the Region 3 Junior Olympic meet in November in Peachtree, Ga. Richards, Caroline Inman, and Matthew Inman finished in the top 20 in their age groups and qualified for the national championships in December in Albuquerque, N.M.

Running at a much higher altitude was an adjustment for the Harrisburg three. However, Richards still finished 60th out of 203 runners. Matthew Inman placed 61st out of 254 runners in the youth boys race.

Almost 30 members continued with the track and field program this spring. Though the Harrisburg Runners primarily concentrates on distance running, some members participated in the faster sprint and hurdle events at the couple of early summer competitions.

As a group, the Runners competed in the Jim Law Invitational on June 15 at UNC Charlotte and the Powerade State Games of North Carolina on June 8 at Johnson C. Smith University.

On June 20, 15 Harrisburg Runners competed in the Region 16 USATF State meet in Greensboro. The event also served as a qualifier for the USATF Junior Olympic National Championships.

Running in the 1500-meter race, Terry started strong in a field of seven runners. She was able to keep her pace and crossed the finish line less than a second ahead of the second-place finisher.

Terry also finished sixth in the 800 meters, one spot away from qualifying for the national championships in a second event. Richards finished second in the 1500 meters in her age group. Terry is also a fledgling tennis player; Richards also plays recreational softball.

“They are both phenomenal athletes,” said Sbardella. “And they’re also extremely optimistic, cheerful and happy and bring a lot of enthusiasm to the club. Their attitude is contagious among the other kids.”