How these Richmond Road Runners improve the community one step at a time

Posted at 2:15 PM, Aug 23, 2023

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- As students head back to school, one club began getting kids ready for the daily demands of education over the summer. The Fourth Annual Richmond Road Runners Youth Running Camp was off and racing at Robious Middle School in July. The five-day experience promoted youth fitness and healthy eating. It also fostered camaraderie among budding middle school athletes.

The camp, the only of its kind in Central Virginia, offered free training for middle school students across the region.

Some participants got much more out of the camp than they expected.

Gabi Escobar, 11, was a first-time runner who struggled on the first day of camp. She walked most of the four-lap mile around the track. But by the end of camp, Escobar said she felt like she could conquer the world.

"I felt so amazing. I felt like I could do anything," Escobar said as she reflected on when she crossed the finish line. "I can do whatever I put my mind to. And even if it’s hard keep pushing."

Escobar was able to knock three minutes off of her mile time over the course of the week.

Richmond Road Runners

Faster and stronger, but also more confident and feeling powerful.

Program coordinator Bill Kelly said the sense of accomplishment Escobar felt was a huge by-product of the running camp.

"The thing that we've seen is that a lot of young people come out here that are not runners and they find out that they can run and it really helps their self-image," Kelly said. "Hopefully, that lesson will help her feel much better about who she is. And she should. We didn't do it, she did it."

The camp also connects participants from different communities, schools, and backgrounds.

"I’ve found a lot of friends in track," 14-year-old runner Parker Wootten said.

Wootten's 5-minute mile broke the camp record.

High school student and volunteer coach Justin Madison said he hoped the younger runners would make new friends and learn how to be good teammates.

"That's really important as these kids grow from middle school to high school. I don't care what level they're at. They just need to learn that if I help somebody else, if I bring somebody else up, I’m going to bring myself up," Madison said.

Richmond Road Runners
High school student and volunteer coach Justin Madison

Madison said he returned to the camp to help mold the young runners to be more confident and powerful.

"I like to think of myself as being a motivator for all the kids here," he said. "When I was a camper, I was always looking up to the people and being like, wow, they're so fast. I was always thinking, I’ll never be able to get that fast. Now that I’ve grown up and become a high schooler and I’m a big counselor here and the kids are looking up to me and they're asking me questions. It's really awesome. I feel like I’m making a difference in the kids' lives because running really helped me.”

Part of the five-day camp included guest speakers who shared stories that stressed the importance of staying active, eating a balanced meal, and making nutrition and fitness a lifestyle.

One speaker, Richmond native and Robious Middle School graduate Kirk Millikan, set the Guinness World Record for the fastest marathon time while dressed as a lumberjack. What a fun (and challenging) way to run!

"I’m hoping to show them that through running you can have a lot of fun. You can dress up in a costume and still work toward goals. Whether that’s trying to set a Guinness New World Record or just going out for the Monument Ave 10k," Milikan said.

Richmond Road Runners
Lumberjack runner Kirk Millikan speaks with campers

This camp is proof that with dedication, passion, and teamwork, even the smallest steps can lead to an inspiring journey of transformation and fun.

"Come to this camp, because it’s really fun. You get a lot of exercise and it’s definitely better than sitting," Escobar said.

All of the high school coaches are volunteers and each kid camper can attend for free.

Kelly said he hoped this type of camp would not only enrich the endurance and confidence of local youth but also lay the groundwork for an even broader movement across the state. He would love to see this camp’s impact spread to other running clubs across the state and country.

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