Part way through the mid-morning races of the Fast Start Track & Field Invitational on January 31 at Showalter Field, a fourth grade boy grabbed hold of two fellow runners from his school and loudly–and seriously–urged them to hurry to the starting line. “It’s what we’ve been training for all our lives!” he explained.
This kind of youthful enthusiasm bubbled up throughout the free, day-long event that drew more than 800 students from elementary schools in Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville.
Now in its 10th year, Fast Start has become a happy tradition, something kids start asking about and preparing for when they return to school in the fall. It’s a place for kids to exalt in joy of running and long jumping for fun—no matter what a child’s size, ability or disability. And everyone gets a ribbon.
It’s the brain child of Scott Millson, a former runner who grew up participating in a similar event in north Florida. He wanted the same for local youth, and so he created Fast Start.
In the past 10 years, the numbers have continued to grow. The more than 800 participants this year attend Aloma, Audubon Park, Brookshire, Cheney, Dommerich, Hungerford, Lake Sybelia and Lakemont elementary schools.
In honor of the event’s 10th anniversary, the pre-event pasta party—another tradition—featured a panel made up of Fast Start alumni. Mr. Millson said young runners had lots of good questions for panel members who have gone on to have running success in high school and college. The older runners gave advice on nutrition, sleep, and how to relax before a race. They also stressed the importance of playing multiple sports when the kids are young. “I couldn’t have scripted their answers any better than they delivered them themselves,” Mr. Millson said.
High School runners are also playing a bigger role as volunteers during the event. On Saturday, Mr. Millson said there were 100 volunteers from the Winter Park High School (WPHS) Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a WPHS marketing class and track and field teams. In addition, members of the Trinity Preparatory School Track and Field team were involved. While parents originally ran most parts of Fast Start, at the most recent event, more than 95% of the event’s volunteers were students. “It truly has become a student-led event,” Mr. Millson said. In addition, students chaired three of the event planning committees.
“I’ll always be involved, but I love having Fast Start alumni help run the event,” he said.
Special moments surface whenever hundreds of students gather for a fun, outdoor event, but Mr. Millson said his favorite moment this year was when a student came up to say his mother wanted to talk to him. “She was along the fence and I walked over to her. She told me that she wanted to personally thank Fast Start. Her son participated back in the first few years of Fast Start and was, in her words, ‘a pudgy and not overly athletic’ child. But, he was introduced to track and field via Fast Start, fell in love with it, and is now competing at the high school level in the pole vault and hurdles.”
“That,” said Millson, “is what Fast Start is all about.”
And in case you are wondering, there will be a Fast Start 11, tentatively scheduled for January 30, 2016.