By Greg Bach
Jared Fetterolf’s youth and teen years were dominated by racket sports: he was addicted to tennis at age 10 and family gatherings were routinely punctuated with badminton matches in the yard.
But once he went for a run during his college days, looking to relieve some stress, he quickly discovered a new sport.
And he’s been running…and running…and running ever since.
In today’s world of sky-rocketing obesity rates and the alarming invasion of type 2 diabetes on young bodies, the push to get kids moving is as strong and much-needed as ever.
Fetterolf knows all about being on the move, as he’s an ultramarathoner competing in races like the brutal Badwater® 135, known as the world’s toughest foot race. The 135-mile race begins in Death Valley, covers three mountain ranges, and ends at Mt. Whitney, Calif. And it’s accompanied by blistering, triple digit heat.
We caught up with Fetterolf to get his thoughts on the value of kids running (beginning with much shorter distances than he does!) and embracing fitness, the importance of keeping a positive mindset, and more.
HELPING KIDS FIND SOMETHING THEY’RE PASSIONATE ABOUT
The only way youngsters will discover sports and activities they truly love is if they are exposed to a variety of them.
“I think it’s pretty important when you are in high school to kind of dabble in a bunch of different sports,” Fetterolf recommends. “Play basketball, play baseball, play football and see where your passion is at. I had a thing for racket sports and that’s what led me to play tennis for eight years. When it comes to adolescents it’s important that they try a bunch and have their parents help them, too.”
DISCOVERING THE JOYS OF RUNNING
Like a lot of kids, Fetterolf wasn’t a big fan of running during his younger days.
“In high school when they forced us to run it wasn’t as much fun,” he says. “When you’re forced to do it nobody really likes it.”
But when kids try it on their own it can often be an entirely different story.
And create new opportunities and new memories while forging a healthy body.
“Running has a lot of benefits for kids, like burning calories, staying lean, building their endurance level and working their slow twitch muscles,” Fetterolf explains. “But I like to do it because it makes me happy. And I would tell kids that with the endorphin release it’s very much a stress reliever for me and that’s how I started in the sport. If they tried it I think they would love it.”
In ultramarathon races competitors look out for each other and help each other.
It’s pretty special sportsmanship that is on full display.
“At the Badwater, it’s 135 miles in 120-degree weather so when I would pass runners I would say ‘Hey, if you need anything that’s my crew right there just ask them and they’ll give you anything you need’ or ‘How are you doing? Anything I can help you with?’” Fetterolf says. “When people are struggling you feel bad for them and so you want to help them. It’s kind of a different mentality on your opponents in this sport.”
THE POWER OF THE MIND
The mind can be an incredibly powerful tool when it’s buzzing with positive thoughts, but when negative thoughts creep into a young athlete’s head poor performances typically follow.
Here’s how Fetterolf uses positive thinking during his races that young athletes in all sports can benefit from:
“Here’s how I look at it, and I kind of taught myself this,” he explains. “Your body doesn’t pick when you stop, so all the signals and your receptors and everything being sent to your brain – my ankles hurt, or I’ve got six blisters on my left foot, or I’m starting to get trench foot because I’m running through all this mud and rain – things can get very painful. A simple blister can make someone stop a race if it gets bad enough. Your mind is the control center so your mind tells you when to stop, not your body. So, if your body keeps getting these signals – I’m in pain, this hurts, I need to stop – your mind tells you to just keep going. So, that’s what you have to acknowledge. You try to think happy thoughts.”
When it comes to running Fetterolf’s thought process is straightforward: “Running is just one foot in front of the other,” he says. “You just keep going. It’s stress relieving to me.”
ADVICE FOR KIDS IN SPORTS
“Just go out there and do your best,” Fetterolf says. “That’s really the best advice you can give. They’re going to learn something about themselves if they just go out there and do their best; they’re going to see what they are made of.”
That’s what Fetterolf did when he signed up for his first ultramarathon.
He simply did his best.
And that’s all that can be asked of any young athlete competing in any sport.
“When I had first learned about ultramarathons I had done three half marathons and three full marathons and then I went online googling ultramarathons and I saw that there was one on my birthday,” he explains. “I didn’t have any experience and didn’t know what I was doing because the most I had ever run competitively was half of this. So, I just went out there and did my best. I actually did pretty well – I did it in 8 hours and 29 minutes and I felt great about myself because as soon as I crossed the finish line I had done it.”
Three-time Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines with a message all young athletes need to hear
Olympic softball great Andrea Duran on using failure to work harder and achieve more
Olympic steeplechaser Colleen Quigley on the value of trying a variety of sports and how it shaped the trajectory of her life
Dr. Christopher Ahmad, co-author of PLAY BALL and head team physician for the New York Yankees, on keeping kids out of operating rooms and on the field