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Kelli Kerkhoff

Teaching kids how to work hard and win through running

Helping Kids Do the Impossible

By Katie Ellington

Running has been Kelli Kerkhoff’s passion since she was a little girl. But to the boys in her community, she’s more than a runner. She’s an encourager, a coach, and a role model.

Kerkhoff’s running career began in her grandmother’s backyard, where she and her sister would race to the barn and back, eagerly trying to beat each other’s times. She went on to run track and field in high school as well as eight marathons and more than ten half marathons, and she coaches elementary students through the YMCA’s Stride program.

When her son entered middle school, Kerkhoff realized that there were no school-sponsored running programs for middle school boys. Knowing that many families in the community lacked the resources to enroll their children in private running programs, she approached the school about starting up a running program for boys.

“I remember how much I loved running in junior high,” she says. “So I thought, ‘I’ve got to do something with middle schoolers.’”

Kerkhoff attended coaching classes to get ideas and is now preparing to launch her program, Epic Running Company, this fall. Kerkhoff hopes that the program will allow any student to experience all that running has done for her.

“I wasn’t any star athlete or anything, but I loved it,” she says. “I have a passion for it. So if I can share that, if anyone else can develop a passion because of what I tried to teach them, then I’ve won.”

“I feel like it’s important to have something at the school after school so all the kids have the opportunity to participate,” she says. The affordable program will not only allow boys to become better athletes, but also to make friends and relieve stress. The most important lessons kids will learn, however, are life lessons.

“The program also teaches basic life concepts for boys that help them grow up to be better men,” says Kerkhoff’s husband, Andy. “Several of the boys that were in this initial program that she started had never really run before. Kelli and the other coaches teach them the sport but also concepts like character, honor, sportsmanship, teamwork, and respect.”

Kerkhoff often tells her runners that they must learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, because most rewarding experiences take hard work.

“We had a kid who doubted his ability to finish the 5K,” she says of her work with the YMCA. “When he finished, he had the biggest smile. When he was holding his medal, the look on his face was priceless and he wanted to do it again.”

“I wanted them to see that they can do anything they want to do,” says Kerkhoff. “I think it teaches them that not everything is easy. But it’s worth it.”