Standing in the gymnasium at Craig-Houghton Elementary School, Pardon Ndhlovu lifted one arm and high-fived Isaiah Holmes.
“Have you ever ran a 5K before?” asked Ndhlovu, who competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics marathon.
“Nope – never have,” Holmes, 11, said. “But I think I’d be really good.”
In 10 days, not only will Holmes be running – he’ll be doing so in style.
On Wednesday, Fleet Feet Sports – a shoe store off Furys Ferry Road – presented more than 20 Craig-Houghton students with new shoes, socks and a T-shirt to compete in the ‘Hope for Augusta 5K’ on Nov. 12. The race will take place at May Park.
“This means so much to our kids,” said Sophia A. Cogle, principal at Craig-Houghton . “Before this year, a lot of these students didn’t know running was a competitive sport. They had no idea. And, look, we just might have the next Usain Bolt in here.”
In August, around 20 Craig-Houghton pupils were given the opportunity to join the Hope for Augusta running club. At the time, the students – first to fifth grade – agreed to train each Wednesday and Friday for 10 weeks to prepare for the Nov. 12 race.
What they didn’t know, however, was that Fleet Feet Sports would outfit them.
“When they signed up, they did it for exercise,” said Carolyn Lewis, an instructional coach at Craig-Houghton. “They were so proud to be part of this group and that was long before anything was mentioned about free shoes.”
More than six weeks after training started, Jen McCauley of Fleet Feet Sports broke the news to runners. According to McCauley, there are 175 Fleet Feet franchises across the country and 10 were awarded a $2,500 grant to provide equipment to local kids.
“I nearly cried when I heard we were selected,” McCauley said. “I mean, there are so many Fleet Feet franchises that do great work, so to be chosen means the world to me. It means the world to these kids.”
In addition to receiving Nike shoes, Ndhlovu spent time speaking to the running club, while urging pupils to stay motivated.
At the Rio Games, Ndhlovu placed 41st out of 155 of the world’s top marathon runners. At one point, he slipped to 83rd before climbing his way back into the top 50. Ndhlovu, who now works at Fleet Feet, represented Zimbabwe and finished with a time of 2:17:48.
“I started running when I was 13, so y’all are getting a head start on me,” Ndhlovu said. “I hope these shoes help each of you become great runners. You all can all be great.”
Reach Doug Stutsman at (706) 823-3341 or firstname.lastname@example.org