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Palmetto Track and Field Club looks to grow in cross country

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When it comes to cross country competitions, Charles McKeel wants his team to lead the pack.

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The Palmetto Track and Field Club, a registered USA Track and Field Junior Olympics program, is seeking new recruits for this fall’s cross-country season.

McKeel said this season presents a special opportunity because state, region and national meets will all be in South Carolina. He said the convenience of having all three meets so close to home led him and co-coach Jack Gilmore to put more of an effort into recruiting and training runners.

“My goal this year is to have Aiken be competitive with all the other cities,” McKeel said. “I don’t like losing, so I want to at least be competitive this year.”

The required distances for competition begin at 2 kilometers for the youngest competitors, then increase with the older age groups, with a distance of 5 kilometers required for the oldest.

McKeel said cross country provides great exercise and is a sport where individuals can see improvement over a matter of weeks if they stick with the training schedule.

“It’s a good thing where if you put in the work, you get some results,” McKeel said.

He said most participants in the Palmetto Track and Field Club are either home-school or private school students whose schools do not have cross country programs. Public high school students involved with their school’s cross country programs are still invited to participate, because the club’s meets are scheduled to begin after the end of the high school season.

South Carolina residents between ages 8 and 18 are eligible to sign up. Children younger than 8 can join on a case-by-case basis. Practice is typically held four days a week, on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 8 a.m. Those who can’t make all four practices each week can still participate if they run on their own with a supplied plan, McKeel said.

Rebekah Landeene, a 16-year-old home-school student, said she has competed in track and field events in the past but that this is her first year in cross country. She said she has discovered she prefers running cross country to track.

“With track, you have to get all your energy out in a short time,” Landeene said. “In this, you have time to pace yourself so that you can catch up with the person in front of you.”

John Potvin, 11, who is also homeschooled, said he has been participating in the meets for one to two years. He said he has seen his final times improve as he trained more.

“It’s amazing to see how much your time improves over time,” Potvin said. “At the end, you feel like you’ve accomplished something.”

For more details, call McKeel at (803) 648-7042 or Gilmore at (803) 649-1358.

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