Half an hour after school was out, kids were crowding on to the equipment in the play area behind the building while others played tag on the wide green field. But one 11-year-old girl wasn’t playing. She was running alone, making laps of the field, head up, back straight, eyes forward, maintaining a steady rhythm in the cold afternoon.
Sixth grader Lauren Gurney was training, but her solitary figure meant more than just a kid working out. She was part of a long tradition of competitive running on Shelter Island and one reason the tradition has been given new life after being given up for dead for a number of years.
Lauren is a member of the Shelter Island Running Club, consisting of 20 school kids and two coaches — legendary Island athlete Toby Green and Bryan Gallagher, both of whom are making a strong case to reintroduce cross country racing as a varsity sport next year, with a special focus on a girls team.
As seven other members of the club began to join Lauren on the track or limbered up on the field, Mr. Green said the future for organized, competitive running here was bright. Asked what was the biggest surprise he’d found working with the young athletes, Coach Green didn’t hesitate. “The enormous amount of talent we have,” he said. “When we put it together, it’s going to be a shock. We’ll be a young varsity team with the oldest girl in the ninth grade. We’ll make a dent.”
The school hasn’t had a cross country team the last three or four years, according to Athletic Director Rick Osmer. “We never really discontinued it,” he said. The reason the school hasn’t fielded a team since, Mr. Osmer added, “is very simple. There was not any interest.”
There seems to be interest now. Not only does the club train every afternoon after school and Saturday mornings, but they have competed, unofficially, in meets as close as East Hampton and as far away as the USATF Long Island Association Youth XC Championships.
In that meet, held earlier this month, Lindsey Gallagher, 13 — one of Coach Gallagher’s daughters on the team along with Emma, 11 — Caitlin Binder and Francesca Frasco finished in the top 10 in their age groups. The boys also sparkled in the championships, with Jason Green and Brandon Payano finishing in the top 10 in their divisions.
Francesca, 13, ready to do a series of 200 yard sprints at practice, said she had chosen to pursue running as a sport because she liked the solitude, but also enjoyed running with her friends.
Coach Green said that was one of the joys of organized running; it’s both an individual and a team sport. He was one of the first runners another legend, Cliff Clark, trained at Shelter Island High School, going on to win county championships in cross country and other events. Many of the distance records for Shelter Island School are still held by Coach Green. He is just one of many champions the Island has produced.
Mr. Clark competed at the highest level in the 1972 Olympic Trials, running the 5000 meters and just missing the cut. He is also a coach of other champions, especially the girls track team of 1996. Of the seven members — Jannelle Kraus-Nadeau, Alexis Hamblet, Eileen Sheppard, Michelle Gagen, Amanda Kraus, Charlotte Moore and Fay Rodriguez — four were selected to compete at county championships, winning every race they entered.
Ms. Kraus-Nadeau, who coordinates the elite runners for the Shelter Island 10K, is honored here in the Shelter Island School Athletic Hall of Fame both for her cross country and track and field career and her post career as a would-be Olympian. She trained for the 2008 Olympics, but fell short at the trials when she sustained a hip injury that knocked her out of contention.
Shelter Island is a “mecca for runners,” Mr. Clark said, noting the exposure the annual 5K and 10K races has brought, with champion runners from around the world coming to compete.
Coach Gallagher said running is almost a perfect sport for young people to promote a healthy life style. It’s especially good for girls, he said. His daughters and their friends can set personal limits and goals and challenge themselves every time out. “You can see them growing in self-confidence, and that’s a very big thing at this age, especially for girls,” he said.
The day was darkening under a cold blue sky feathered with thin clouds as the club ran through drills. The youngsters ran away from where the coaches stood to a far end of the track, curving away. The coaches called out to the runners by name, encouraging them, using the same tone for the leaders as those bringing up the rear.
The roster of the 2013
Shelter Island Running Club