BALANCING ACT:   Coaches please find safer routes for runners

Staff writer

I almost hit a Tabor College cross-country runner Monday. Then I almost hit another, and another. These near-accidents did not almost happen because I am a poor driver; it was because the road these athletes run on every afternoon for practice was not made for vehicles and runners!

Anyone who has driven in and out of Hillsboro on old 56 Highway in the past few days or weeks has likely had a similar experience as I — it is just extremely lucky no one has been hurt yet.

For those not familiar with old 56, it is a narrow two-lane highway with no shoulders and rough ditches. If a vehicle happens to come from the opposite direction at the same time a driver has to swerve out and around one of the many runners on the road every afternoon, it is a major accident in the making.

The problem is not the road. It serves its purpose well. The problem is the shortsighted attitude of coaches, both college and high school, who send their students out into dangerous situations needlessly.

Most of the runners I see on the road are from Tabor College. They are not doing anything wrong necessarily. They run on the side of the road, they wave and smile at everyone who goes by. Some are more alert than others and attempt to get out of the way … but often there is nowhere to go.

It seems to me that a college with a new multi-million dollar stadium and acres of track practice fields with hills, slopes and grass, has no reason to send athletes on a trek out-of-town and into potentially dangerous situations.

Packing the runners into a van and dropping them off in the country is not much appreciated either. I live in a hilly area southwest of town apparently loved by local cross-country teams. I can put up with our dogs barking non-stop during training season, but I just wonder what might happen if my dog actually bit a runner. Chances are I would be sued or penalized for having a dangerous dog.

I live in the country because I like the peace and quiet. I pay property taxes and drive longer distances to work and school functions because, among other things, I like having dogs in my yard untethered.

I think it is rather disrespectful of all cross-country teams to just show up in the country and assume no one minds their invasion. It is not fair that I have to worry about the livestock in my pens getting scared, or that my dogs might be punished for doing what they naturally do best — protecting my property. It is also not fair I have to worry about the safety of these runners when they are in my area.

I guess I am sensitive to the issue of school-affiliated runners taking their sport out onto public roads because I also have a cousin whose life was changed drastically after a college-required run.

This girl was on the Newman University basketball team several years ago in Wichita. Part of their off-season training routine was an early morning run on the deserted streets.

One morning, as my cousin and her teammates, and coaches, stretched out and began their run, a drunk driver hurtled down the street taking out half the team.

The girl running next to my cousin was killed instantly. Head trauma and several surgeries for a knee injury never brought my cousin back to her former abilities. She quit the team and college. Her life changed forever.

I would hate to see Tabor College, or any of the other area schools that are putting runners on the roads these days, have to deal with another senseless student death. It is time for safety to be a priority for student-athletes and their coaches, especially when it comes to finding places to run.

 

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