A run for life

The founding of running group is labor of love for Eldersburg father

Thursday, Feb. 9, 2006

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Bill Ryan⁄The Gazette
Pete Lester of Eldersburg formed the Eldersburg Rogue Runners five years ago. At 45, Lester still logs an average of 25 miles each week and has passed his passion for the sport onto his three children who compete regularly.

Running is more than exercise for Pete Lester. It’s a spiritual experience.

When the 45-year-old is out pounding the pavement near his Eldersburg home, he can clear his mind and feel closer to God.

‘‘When I’m out on the road for two or three miles, I can sort through a memo I need to write and have it all figured out,” he laughed, adding that he doesn’t carry a pencil and paper with him all the time. ‘‘There are days when I get home and my wife will look at me and say ‘go for a run.’ It’s my way to blow off steam.”

And sometimes the steam is literal.

Lester trudges 20 to 25 miles each week – sweating through the heat of the sun in the summer and billowing steam from his mouth in the bitter winds of winter.

‘‘I’m starting to feel the mileage,” he said, explaining that he has arthritis. ‘‘I don’t compete anymore. I’ve given up on going to the Olympics, but I do this because it helps me from a mental and spiritual standpoint.”

Lester’s passion for running is not all that led him to form the Eldersburg Rogue Runners, a running group, five years ago. His dedication and love of his family and a twist of fate led him in that direction.

When a job change to TBG Financial in Baltimore moved Lester, his wife Christine and three children Pete Jr., Rush and Katelyn to the area from Georgia seven years ago, a special challenge faced them.

‘‘Pete got cut from St. Joseph’s basketball team,” Lester said, explaining that being cut was devastating to his oldest son who had played in Atlanta with the second-best team in the nation. ‘‘No one knew him up here, and he didn’t make it.”

Knowing that he had to supplement the void for his son, Lester encouraged him to run.

‘‘We started with a bunch of kids stretching in my driveway,” Lester said. ‘‘Then they ended up staying for pizza and spending the night, and we all just started enjoying every minute of it.”

Since humble beginnings in the Lester family’s driveway, the organization, which was created to support runners in South Carroll, has grown to approximately 200 members – runners of all levels of athleticism and ranging in ages from elementary school student to older adults.

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‘‘Of that 200, I’d say that 85 are middle and elementary school kids, 40 are adults and the balance are high schoolers,” Lester said. ‘‘The group allows things to happen that the schools can’t do like New York City [competition] trips.”

Six of the county’s seven high schools have chosen to participate in the opportunities that extend beyond their typical sports seasons.

The Eldersburg Rogue Runners sponsors summer training programs that help athletes keep in shape or begin a life-long love affair with running.

‘‘We’ve had kids come out in the beginning of the summer and they’re just dying,” Lester said. ‘‘It doesn’t take much. By the end of the summer they’re running four to five miles like it’s no big deal.”

The Rogue Runners also sponsor a trip to the Footlocker Cross Country Championships in New York each November, run a summer track and field team and will begin a series of cross country races for middle and elementary school students at Oklahoma Road Middle School in April.

‘‘The response has been great,” Lester said. ‘‘With the summer track and field team, we hoped for 35 and this year we had 87.”

Lester said that the support and participation of parents has been the catalyst in the Rogue Runners success and the take-off of other programs he has led, including Liberty Basketball. And the parents are happy to help.

Cathy Martin, one of those parents, agreed, adding she enjoys his dedication to area athletes. Martin has worked with Lester through the basketball program, which allows athletes to compete 10 months out of the year to stay in shape for their high school seasons.

‘‘He’s just a visionary,” she said. ‘‘He’s a man who sees what is needed and gets it started and turns it over. He’s a really unique person.”

Martin said Lester’s persistence and vision has taken the idea of forming a team six years ago to the development of a program that has grown to seven teams this year.

‘‘The objective is to play against better teams and to go to a national tournament,” Martin said, adding that her son’s team made it that far last year. ‘‘The experience is just amazing.”

Athleticism seems to run in the veins of Lester’s children. While Pete Jr., now a sophomore at James Madison University is not running competitively, there is ‘‘talk” that he might take it up again. Rush, an 18-year-old senior at Liberty High School, was captain of his cross country team. The youngest of the clan, Katelyn, 12, a student at Oklahoma Road Middle School, has already expressed interest in running, according to Lester.

‘‘I’ve been running competitively from the time I was 13 until I tore my Achilles in college,” Lester said. ‘‘If you look at my wedding photo, my groomsmen were my high school mile relay team. It’s a spiritual thing for me, and I’m glad I passed it along to my kids.”

On the Web

For information about the Eldersburg Rogue Runners, visit www.errun.org.