By Ashley Austin
On a chilly Saturday morning, Sammy Owen was putting his coaching experience to good use. Instead of motivating the Easley High School cross country team, he was running with Raigan, his seven-year-old daughter, during The Greenville News Downtown 5K in late January.
"It was the first race my daughter and I ran together," Owen said. "I had to hold back the ‘coach’ inside and just be a daddy."
Raigan showed an interest in running after she witnessed her father’s love of the sport.
"She knows how serious of a runner I am," Owen said, "so she asked if she could run with me."
Owen’s dedication to running started at an early age. He began running when he was 10 and joined the cross country and track teams at Easley High School in the seventh grade.
During his senior year of high school, Owen earned All-State in cross country and won the state 3200-meter run.
Owen’s success followed him to college, where he was a national qualifier in cross country at Carson-Newman. In 1998, after his college career, Owen decided to try his hand at coaching.
One year after Owen began coaching cross country at Greenwood High School, his team won the region championship for the first time in school history. He moved back to his hometown in 2005 and coached Easley High School to a cross country region championship in 2006.
Now, Owen is the head cross country coach both at Easley High School and at home, his daughter could not be happier.
"I like running for fun," she said. "I think running in a race is exciting."
Raigan’s first racing experience was the Race for the Grasshopper, a one-mile fun run in Cowpens on Jan. 10. After that, she was hooked.
"We started training for [the downtown 5K]. We would run every other day or every two days," Owen said.
When race day finally came, Owen decided he and Raigan would run the race together.
"I did not want her to run by herself with 2,000 runners," he said, "I wanted to ensure that this would be a fun experience for her."
Owen and his daughter ran the entire race together in matching "Team Owen" t-shirts, and the motivation Raigan gained from running with her father paid off, as she finished first in her age group with a time of 28:43.
"She won the 10 and under age group," Owen said. "And yes I am a gloating father."
Raigan, too, was excited to win, noting that "the best things about running are winning races and being with daddy."
While Owen understands his daughter’s love of winning, he is careful not to push her too hard at such a young age.
"I am very cautious with very young runners," Owen said. "We just run and talk and have fun ‘daddy and daughter’ time. No speed at all. My main goal with her is to show her the fun side of running."
And for many, the fun side of running does not exist solely in competition. Serving as a volunteer is another way for running enthusiasts to enjoy the action.
"Most people actually tell you afterwards how much fun they had helping," Valerie Beesley, former South Carolina Youth Chair for USATF, said. "It is a great way to pass the time, and, in the case of a track meet, it is the best seat in the house."
Because so much goes into every race -- setup the day or morning before, maintenance during, and take-down afterward -- volunteers are a necessity to any running-related event.
Beesley expressed a call to arms to young runners, stating "those of us who are out there [volunteering] are not getting any younger!"
Volunteering, then, is a way for individuals to enjoy themselves while also giving back to the running community. And parents like Owen can reveal the fun side of running to their children through racing and volunteering alike.
With Raigan’s success showing at such a young age, her father understands how much she has open to her.
"I certainly see a lot of potential in her," he said. "That is why I have to constantly hold the 'coach' in check. But running in high school will be her decision."
So the saga continues. Raigan, much like her father, possesses a myriad of opportunities at quite a young age, and only time will tell what she pursues in her future.
Maybe it’s due to the constant encouragement Owen shows his daughter, or maybe it’s Raigan’s own will to succeed that has given her so much promise. Whatever the case, the Owen father-daughter team is a wonderful example of the importance of family influence, quality time, and motivational t-shirts!