There they were, the Welsch sisters from Texas, two tiny girls tucked in a crowd of giant men, staring back at me from a photo in the Sunday New York Times. Their story took up three pages in the Sports section last week — and I’m still reeling!
The girls are 8 and 10 years old, respectively, and with their father, Rodney, cheering (forcing?) them on, they compete in marathons, triathlons, and crazy mountainous trail runs with adults three times their age and twice their size. One race led them up 7,300 feet as one girl struggled with a busted toe.
Reading their story I thought two things: 1. Wow, those girls kick ass! And 2. Wow, that seems irresponsible of their parents. And yet, more inspired by the former, I told my boys, who are 7 and 8, to put down their Wii remotes. “We’re going for a run!” I said. They said something like “no” and “why do you have to torture us with your ideas?” but all I heard was “yes!” My boys like sports, but they’d much rather be inside playing Lego Batman or reading Beast Quest. I will make them running stars and it we will start today!
We headed to the beach where it was only 82 degrees the Los Angeles heat wave still in full effect. My younger son rode his scooter while my 8-year-old and I ran. We started out really fast. My 8-year-old was sprinting and I was struggling to keep up. My boy on the scooter was doing great.
Maybe they CAN be sports stars! I thought, blocking out the nagging sound of my sons’ cries to please stop. The opportunities were limitless — we can do races together on the weekends and train during the week. I’ll be so fit! I mean, they’ll be so fit.
We had gone about a mile when my younger son hit a pothole on his scooter and slid on his knee. “I can’t go on!” he wailed. I thought of little Heather Welsch and how she finished the Utah trail-run bloody and crying from taking a spill on a steep hill. If she can do that my son can get up from the sidewalk and push his scooter. “Get up, we’re almost done.” We’re all going to need to toughen up if we’re going to make a career out of being sporty. I ignored the other voice inside that said maybe we should seek out a bandaid and we were off.
We ran/scooted like the wind along the breezeless ocean walk. As we got close to mile 3 (and our car) my 8-year-old said his body hurt. His face was bright red and his hair was wet from sweat. Poor guy. I could see the finish line, not just of this race, but the LA Marathon, the Hawaiian Iron Man, the Mojave Desert Ultra Marathon.
“Keep running! We’re almost at 3 miles!”
“Ow,” I heard him cry behind me. He stopped and had his hand on his hip hunched over. “We’ll come back for you!” I yelled over my shoulder as my scooter son and I finished up the 3 miles. We went back for my 8-year-old and got him to finish up the run. It’s good for him to finish even if he is pain. No pain, no gain. Right?
Later, over bacon and pancakes, he said that even though he may have permanent bone damage, our running adventure was a pretty good time. I was happy that it was fun, but wondered if we could keep it up every weekend.
I have to hand it to Rodney Welsch; it’s not easy getting kids to push their bodies beyond their perceived limits. But as I watched my kids happily play Bad Piggies on my iPhone, I wondered, do we really need to? As much as I want my boys to break a record running the Los Angeles marathon while I broker endorsement deals for them, I had to ask this question: Are endurance sports beyond the regular soccer, baseball, and basketball appropriate for their growing bodies? Stories like this one and the ones below certainly don’t make the decision an easy one:
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Concussions 1 of 5
Heat related illness 2 of 5Football practice for high school kids usually starts in the heat of the summer and with summers getting hotter this can be terrible for players. Last year alone, 7 high school football players died from heat related illness.
Muscle injuries 3 of 5Cross Fit is a popular workout for many moms, but is it safe for kids. Link that opens to new page For some kids it may be fine.
Facial and head injuries 4 of 5According to a study, hockey injuries among young people has increased as more kids start playing the game. Concussions and facial injuries were the most concerning injuries
Running Safety 5 of 5Is running marathons safe for kids? There have been more reports of injuries, as more and more kids participate.
How young is too young to push kids in sports? Tell me in the comments!
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