WASHINGTON TERRACE — One boy gave up football, while another gave up sleeping in. A third was cut from Bonneville High School's soccer team and decided sitting on the sideline just wasn't his thing.
When Debbie Perry took over the Bonneville High cross country program she knew first and foremost she needed more runners. So she looked at the students already in the program and asked them to help themselves by recruiting new runners.
It helped that the only requirement was a willingness to show up.
"We were literally calling people in the morning saying, 'You've got to get out of bed and come'," she said laughing. "They kind of dragged each other to practice."
Luckily the student-athletes she did have on that first day were teens with large groups of friends — and in some cases those friends had desire, in others, they had talent.
"We had key athletes with a lot of potential and new kids who really hadn't done anything," said Perry of the team that placed second in 4A's state cross country meet last fall. "Two of my five top runners were off the coach. They hadn't been doing anything, but they turned out to be incredible runners."
The group started with four organized runs each week. Perry, a mother of five and a former high school and college runner, knew she needed more than tough workouts to convince these teens that running was fun.
"Running, in general, is something you learn to like," she said. "Not very many people, even those who turn out to be great runners, like it at first. So we tried not to be overwhelming and we were, actually we still are, totally accepting over every ability level."
She offered them workouts that made them stronger, followed by something fun — a trip to Village Inn or a swim party.
"I put a lot of effort into getting them out, and I kept the mileage pretty low," she said. "To be successful, you've got to have the numbers. Even if somebody doesn't have talent, they can love the sport anyway. I love the lifestyle. I'm truly motivated by everyone being successful."
She kept a chart and recorded each runner's personal records. When a record was set, the student athlete was recognized.
It wasn't until she'd hooked them that she pushed them. And by then, they were curious to see just how good they could be.
The workouts were harder in year two and more individualized. She pushed and preached hard work, and even tried to persuade them to believe they could run with the best teams in the state.
"They kind of look at me like I'm Captain Crazy, but then I can show them the times," she said. "I say, 'Look! We are running these times. Put in a good summer and we can do this. A year later we were looking at a completely different squad."
Knowing they can compete with the best doesn't just give the runners confidence, it gives them the desire to invest in training that isn't always enjoyable.
"They have a desire to work and sacrifice and do more, even if it's not fun," she said.
The team is led by Debbie Perry's oldest son, Cade Perry. He was a competitive soccer player until junior high when he decided he'd take up the sport that brought his parents together. Debbie, who graduated from high school in Virginia, and her husband, Guy, met while competing for Weber State. Debbie Perry has trained runners and triathletes for 20 years, and 15 years ago, the couple opened The Salt Lake Running Company.
"He chose it, and he's done a nice job of being a really great captain and leader."
Colby Myers, a senior, is the team's No. 2 runner, with times just 10 or 12 seconds behind Cade's.
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