The 2000 Women's Training Team will take women of all ages who may not be in the best shape -- especially for distance running -- and mold them into athletes fit enough to complete a 5K. Each Tuesday night through the end of September, the group will gather at Shawnee Mission Medical Center to learn training and fitness techniques while building the routine needed to undertake the daunting task of such a lengthy run.
"It's a great grounds for camaraderie and friendship, and it's a broad spectrum of participants. We'll see girls who are 8 years old, and we'll take women in their 60s. We see every fitness level ... large, fit and trim, overweight women ... it runs the whole gamut, so everybody feels comfortable," says Kerry O'Connor, one of the workshop's organizers.
The culmination of the workout sessions comes in early October, with the Avon Running-Kansas City 5K and 10K races -- where participants find out whether they have the tools and discipline to reach the ultimate goal. The idea for the Women's Training Team started in Kansas City four years ago -- when Avon agreed to sponsor a 5K run organized by Shawnee Mission Medical Center -- and has spread to other cities around the country.
"When Avon came in, (the hospital) put more focus on an extended training program. We wanted to give women the tools they needed to complete the run and continue the training," O'Connor says. "It's been really popular. The numbers are growing every year."
In addition to training tips and workout techniques, women in the program receive running advice from top experts in the field, including Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to complete the Boston Marathon. In each session, a team leader gives an inspirational and educational speech on topics ranging from clothes and shoes to food and hydration. Team leaders then organize a group warm-up before heading out on a one-mile trek around the hospital.
"The great thing about this is that it's designed to make women feel comfortable performing at their own level. They can run with the pack or they can lag behind and go at their own pace. There are a lot of people out there to help."
One of the groups offering assistance to the Women's Training Team is the Kansas City Express -- a local women's running group. "They're great and very committed to running. They go along the course and keep everybody motivated and on track," O'Connor says, adding that some women even go on to join that group once the training sessions come to a close after the Avon Run, which is scheduled for October 1.
"For many of these women, this is a great personal milestone," O'Connor says. "Two months is a pretty big commitment ... and it provides great inspiration in other parts of their lives as well. A lot of the women who achieve this goal stick with the program and go on to set a higher goal and continue on the road to good fitness."
It seems as though just about everybody in the metro is counting the seconds till the Chiefs preseason home game this Sunday against the 49ers. However, it's not that hard to remember a time when August meant a George Brett run at a batting title and .400. Back then, checking the paper every day was a ritual, hoping the A's and Angels had lost the night before, giving the Royals a little breathing room in the American League West pennant chase.
Even with the Royals in decline in the '90s and the Chiefs bandwagon at full speed, picking up fans by the thousands each season, I still found it tough to give the gridiron gladiators much attention until the curtain came down on the Fall Classic, yielding center stage to football. But now it's hard to believe the Royals will ever have a legitimate chance of staying in the hunt into the dog days of August.
And that fact alone sheds light on one of the NFL's greatest virtues: The Chiefs have a chance. Just about any team in the league could wind up in Super Bowl ... and that gives even the casual fan a reason to take the sport a little more seriously.
Oh, sure, I'll still watch the World Series this year, but the annual Yankees/Braves showdown has become as a predictable as a sunrise -- and baseball must face the fact that for even the diehard fan, in the current system the sun is setting on the popularity of America's (former) pastime in preparation for a new day dawning for the NFL.