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  • Caylie Gnyra

Autumn Challenge Draws Student Runners To The Park


Participants run in the Autumn Challenge cross-country running race in the Vermilion Provincial Park on Wednesday, September 20. Photo Caylie Gnyra

The Autumn Challenge cross-country running race drew 340 elementary and high school students from Lloydminster, Mannville, Chauvin, Hughenden, Wainwright, and Vermilion to the Vermilion Provincial Park on September 20.

Stepping onto the soccer fields where the races started, the collective energy was palpable. Music pumped on speakers and kids gathered in groups, pulling hair into ponytails, donning pinnies, stretching, and hydrating.

An optional walk-through began at noon to orient runners through the trails assigned to their age group. Various trails were used for different age groups, with kids aged 4–6 running 2 kilometers near the trout pond and older runners following longer trails—up to 6 kilometers—through the lower parts of the park.

Organizers Lindsey Bates, principal of J.R. Robson High School in Vermilion, teacher and coach Kelly Scully, and retired physical education teacher Cheryl Felt started this race about ten years ago. Felt’s enthusiasm for sport shines as she talks about phys. ed. field trips, “You get to go out with the kids and be in that positive energy. You learn things about kids that you wouldn’t see unless you were out with them on a canoe trip or skiing through the park, or in a car driving to a game.”

Racers who place in the Autumn Challenge receive a ribbon, but Felt emphasizes that sport is about so much more than winning. Young athletes influence each other and the broader community by exhibiting positivity, working hard, demonstrating leadership, having fun, and showing up every day regardless of the outcome of the previous challenge.

Felt explains that team sports disintegrated during COVID, and that schools are now rebuilding teams from scratch. Some schools have cross-country running teams that practice regularly, while others send independent runners. Cross-country running provides an opportunity for students to socialize in a positive environment, develop motor skills and resilient attitudes, and support each other—all skills that transfer over to larger group sports.

The student racers were supported by parents, grandparents, friends, teachers, and other members of the community who co-created a safe and cheery environment. Felt says, “I always go out on the trail where nobody else is and cheer the kids on.” She recalls that many students have expressed appreciation for that mid-run support throughout the years, saying that it helped keep them going. Volunteers stationed throughout the courses helped runners find their way, while conservation officers patrolled the trails to ensure the safety of both the runners and our bear neighbours who reside in the park. “It’s nice to have such great support from the surrounding agencies,” said Bates.

The organizers wish to express sincere gratitude for volunteers Gloria deJong, Kym Nicoll, Darlene Gourley, Diana Smith, Diane Carlson, Alex Vidal, Karl Meisner, Lori Wilhelm, Todd Ree, Ryan and Stacey Adams’ family, Chuck and the guys down at the park, and Tina and Kelly Bodurka.

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