Nothing in life is free, except for community-based track meets

Local distance great Phil Roberts competes in one of the State of Franklin Track Club meets in the summer of 2014.

Aside from the meager $15 annual membership dues paid by its members, the nonprofit State of Franklin Track Club mostly operates on the hard work of its busy and enterprising volunteer wing.

The sweat and elbow grease of these community-minded volunteers truly pays off with, among other benefits, four consecutive weeks of free — yes, I said “free,” as in completely free of cost to anyone who wants to compete — track and field meets, taking place in both Johnson City and Kingsport.

The club and its countless, hard-working board members and volunteers time races throughout the year so they can provide these meets to the area’s runners. Admittedly, I’m a proud member of the club, specifically because of its honest care for the local running community, which is evident in events like this track and field summer meet series.

Unlike the average fun run or weekend 5K, a track and field meet operates with a starting line, gun start and finish line on a sanctioned 400-meter track. It can be intimidating to new runners, but the SFTC’s events are well accessible and a perfect toe-in-the-water for those looking to blaze a sub-six-minute mile or simply finish their first 800-meter race.

Beginning Tuesday, June 14, at Dobyns-Bennett High School in Kingsport at 7 p.m. (registration at 6:30 p.m.), these competitions will be held for adults: 100 meters, 200 meters, 400 meters, 800 meters, mile and 3,200 meters, all timed by the track club. These six distances will be run through the course of the four-week series. There are also some field events for youth competitions, including a long jump, 50 meters, 100-meter hurdles, high jump and shot put.

The same meet structure will be used Tuesday, June 21, at Johnson City’s Science High High School. One week later, June 28, the series returns to Dobyns-Bennett, and the series will be completed on Thursday, July 7, at Science Hill.

Watermelon, water and finisher ribbons (the latter for those 14 and under only) will also be given out after each race.

All of this costs money, but that’s covered by the massive volunteer base, the earned and paid dollars of the timing services and dues of members.

All ages and abilities are welcome and, if needed, the races will be broken up into different heats.

The SFTC encourages runners to enter and compete in as many events as they’d like, with many people often doubling and tripling up on events.

Perhaps the best part?

You don’t have to be a member. You can simply show up, sign up and race to your heart’s content. The club is assuredly in it for the right reasons.

The fruits of the SFTC’s labors include scholarships for high school students transitioning into college, yearly award ceremonies, catered banquets for its members and monthly socials. Plus they offer some of the area’s best road-racing results and history on their website

Jason Tipton is the current president, and soon Neal Whitten will follow on his path, standing on the shoulders of giants before them who put community-based nonprofit track and field as a top priority for an area that obviously loves its runners.

Past presidents of the SFTC — like Tipton and Whitten, Natalie Whitlock, Matthew Studholme, Debi Secor, Earl Brown, Hank Brown, David Fox, Oscar Wagner, Mary Lou Day, Denise Church and others — have dedicated much of their free time to better the local running community.

I don’t think they get enough credit or appreciation for it. Hopefully they will get out there and take some victory laps at the club’s Summer Track Meets series that they helped put together.

Within this community, I’ll remind you, we have a 3:49-miler, a 2:11-marathoner and, not to be skipped over, many runners and soon-to-be-runners, who have the strength and mental fortitude to get up off their couches and get hooked on the sport I would argue is the most important activity on planet Earth.

We might not say it nearly enough, but we applaud you.

There are many of us who grew up in sports and lived an active lifestyle from day one, but perhaps more respect should be thrown at the people who don’t have the same background and are willing to go after it later in life, making the necessary lifestyle and recreational changes to tackle running for the first time. The Tri-Cities Turtles have done immensely well in making a difference this way, for example, and they deserve credit for that.

Like the SFTC, the Turtles are there from a runner’s inception of thought to take up running, through all the training it takes and between the start and finish lines.

Then, most importantly, the Turtles’ motivators and coaches — looking at you, Crystal Landers — are there after first races to celebrate the life-changing accomplishment.

The first step is the hardest, but many are getting out onto the roads, trails and track for the first time, bitten by the running bug, proud of the accomplishments they’ve already made and eager to add to that list.

If you love a good foot race, you should join them on the track or in the training.

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