Welsch sisters are controversial pre-teen distance running sensations
Two young girls from Alvin, Tex., are drawing national attention because of their success in the adult-dominated field of endurance running. They — and more specifically their parents — are also receiving criticism for participating in such challenging events at such a young age.
The Welsch sisters, 12-year-old Kaytlynn (pictured left) and 10-year-old Heather (pictured right), were the subject of an outstanding feature in The New York Times over the weekend.
The young girls have run in more than 75 endurance events where many times the distances were meant to challenge adults. Kaytlynn, the older daughter, has run in two marathons and about 90 endurance events. Her sister has competed in about a dozen fewer events. Both have participated in triathlons.
The Welsches’ parents are into the outdoors and got their daughters involved in various sports when they were younger. Kaytlynn says her small size (the girls weigh about 60 pounds) worked against her in other sports, but she realized she excelled in running after competing in her first triathlon.
The sisters first began competing in distance events after their father entered them in a competition in 2010. It didn’t take long before they were beating everyone their age and even older competition. It also didn’t take long for critics to question the parents.
After the girls ran their first half-marathon, a pediatrician scolded Rodney, their father, for entering the young girls in the race, believing it was harmful for them. Concerned, the parents took their daughters to doctors to see if the endurance running was bad for the girls.
Though some doctors believe that distance running can put stress on growth plates, which could have long-term consequences, the doctors found no reason to keep the girls from continuing to run.
Somewhat worried, the parents continue to take their daughters to the doctor whenever they have problems, though Rodney does push his girls.
Kaytlynn won the women’s division for a 13-mile Xterra race in Waco, Tex., in August, while her younger sister finished third. One of the runners Kaytlynn beat was the favored Claudia Spooner.
“[Rodney] told me he’d been very hard on the older girl” for finishing only sixth in Ohio, Spooner recalled, according to The New York Times. “I said, ‘Really, is it that big a deal? She’s 12.'”
The younger daughter, Heather, also cries frequently during races, but she says she does that when she gets upset after other runners pass her.
At a recent national championship race in Utah, their father pushed them to compete despite problems. Kaytlynn was running with a bad toe, while Heather had fallen early in the race and was bleeding. Though their mother would let them quit if they wanted to, Rodney apparently says Kaytlynn has to much talent to quit.
In addition to the physical strain the girls overcome, they also make other sacrifices.
The parents expect their girls, who are in the 7th and 5th grades, to average a 93 in each school subject. Kaytlynn also says she’s not able to go out with friends much or spend time with them on weekends because she has races and has to properly prepare for them.
What does Kaytlynn think of it all?
“For some reason, running is really fun, even though it hurts sometimes,” Kaytlynn told the Times. “I enjoy it. I can go on and on without getting tired. It makes a purpose in my life.”
Will the girls burn out or suffer other health issues? We don’t know. But we do know that for now, they are excelling at distance running and making names for themselves.
We encourage you to head over to The New York Times to read the entire story.