While others their age scarf down snacks, play video games and lounge on the sofa, these youngsters are running their hearts out. In fact, members of the Mercury Track Club are some of the most elite young athletes the state has to offer.
The club, which is sanctioned by USA Track & Field (USATF), was started in 2002 to provide youth ages 7 to 18 with an opportunity to experience track and field, race walking, and cross-country running. Besides training and motivating its athletes, the club helps them excel by boosting their physical fitness and self-esteem.
Mike Durman, Mercury's distance and cross-country coach, enjoys seeing the sense of pride that his athletes develop.
My favorite thing about coaching, Durman says, is seeing a kid that comes to us with no running skills realize that anything is possible.
Since its inception, Mercury has emerged as one of the nation's top youth track-and-field and cross-country programs. Its 50 members hail from all over the Salt Lake Valley, including the Sugar House area.
Durman says the skills he teaches the athletes can last a lifetime.
We work with kids to give them training and experience, at the same time preserving their bodies so they can compete well at the high school, college and possibly Olympic levels, he says.
If Mercury's track record is any indication, that approach seems to be successful. Durman, along with head track coach Tony Glover, ran the team to victory at the 2006 state track competition. The club also lays claim to 10 individual national champions, nearly 50 All-American awards, 28 regional champions, scores of state champions and a team National Junior Olympic Cross-Country Championship.
One of Mercury's athletes, 13-year-old Kaitlin Syndergaard, enjoys the camaraderie she gets from the club.
It is fun to be part of a group, she says. I like to come to practice to see my friends and . . . make new friends.
Friendship, though, isn't the only thing on her mind. So is winning. In 2004, she placed 13th at a national event in the 3,000 meters. Most recently she ran a 5K in 19 minutes, 36 seconds.
Another factor that sets the Mercury Club apart from other organizations is that it is accessible to competitors of all socioeconomic backgrounds.
If you can afford a pair of tennis shoes and some shorts, you can afford to join our club, Durman says.
Ready to race?
For more information about the Mercury Track Club, call Mike Durman at 801-280-4274 or Tony Glover at 801-641-9567, or consult the Web at www.mercurytrackclub.org.