Tusculum College CC Team Preparing Community Runners

03/23/2012 - 16:16

By Joe Byrd, The Greeneville Sun

tusculum.jpgIt seems the hardest thing about getting new people into running is just getting them out the door the first time, and without a support network, many new runners come up with reasons to quit.

Tusculum College’s cross country team in Greeneville, TN, has come up with a way to help with both problems.

The team, in conjunction with American Greetings, is presenting the free “Couch to 4 Mile” training program to get non runners out the door and prepare them to participate in The Hope 4 four-mile race and 4K wellness walk on May 19 in Greeneville.

Tusculum Cross Country Coach Suzanne Byrd said when the team was coming up with ideas for its annual community service project, the Pioneers couldn’t think of a better way to give back.

And they are giving back in a big way. Through the first two weeks of the program, nearly 150 people are taking part in the Couch to 4.

“We are trying to make our community a healthier place,” Byrd said. “We wanted to give something back to the community and try to get people interested in something our cross country team loves. We were very surprised we got so many people. Hopefully, they will stick with it even after the program is finished.”

The program meets on the campus of Tusculum College each Monday for a brief talk to start each session, then the participants break off into groups to run or walk with others of similar skill level.

Byrd gets the weekly meetings started and then turns it over to the runners to oversee the training groups.

Team members David Cooper, George Blalock, Kekona Soon, Zach Simpson, Eli Minter, Elvis Machado, Jenny Grant, Kesa Hendrix, Ashley Gregg, Carol Hogan and Kim Brown not only lead their groups on the weekly runs, they stay in contact with their assigned runners to make sure everyone is keeping up with their homework by running on their own.

For Cooper, the turnout for the Couch to 4 is impressive.

“I think it’s great to see so many people come out who want to participate in running and walking with other members of the community who have similar interests,” he said. “I have been running in the Greene County community since I started running cross country in the 7th grade, and I have never seen an interest in running in this community like we have seen resulting from this program.”

Byrd said she is pleased with the way the team members are embracing their roles as mentors to the new runners.

For someone who hasn’t run before, the thought of completing the May race could be overwhelming. She said the team is doing a good job of showing the program participants that it can be done.

“For someone who has had very little exercise, four miles is a long way,” she said. “It’s an achievement to finish four miles. We want to help these people achieve that goal, and I believe our student athletes are doing that. Our runners know what it is like to train for a goal, and it’s good to see them helping people toward theirs.”

For the new runners, the Couch to 4 program really is beneficial.

Jeremy Crum, who along with his wife Marlene are taking part, said he wouldn’t have started running on his own.

“I started the Couch to 4 program half as a favor to a friend, and half to prove to myself that, at 41, I could make my body do what I wanted,” Crum said. “Even though my body protested with sore muscles and hurting knees, I’m getting my way and getting back into some semblance of decent physical shape.

“Just knowing that my 20-something ‘coach’ is waiting for an update on my progress is motivation. However, the real motivation is showing myself and my friends that I am not so old and lazy that I can’t finish the program and the four-mile run at the end.”

Cooper, who ran his way onto the South Atlantic Conference All-Freshman team this past season for Tusculum, said the benefits of being one of the coaches in the program is doubly rewarding. He gets to help people get into shape and is also helping increase the size of the local running community.

“Getting people to value running has always been very rewarding to me,” Cooper said. “I have really enjoyed coordinating this program and have looked forward to every weekly meeting. Running in Greeneville is still not too popular, but I have witnessed a steady growth in the number of people interested in running in this area. This interest in itself is very rewarding to me.”

The Hope 4 is a competitive four-mile run and a non-competitive 4K walk set for Saturday, May 19. The event starts and finishes on the campus of Tusculum College.

For information on the Hope 4 and the Couch to 4, visit

Photo: Tusculum coach Suzanne Byrd speaking to the group