BY STEVE MATTINA, SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Cross-country running is what I consider running in its raw form. The introduction to it is usually at a young age through our participation in school events. What’s unique is that the appeal is not on personal placement but more so on participation, or rather a team feel, since most times the weight rides more on the fifth or sixth placing runner rather than the top few because it’s a combined score that determines the winning team.

I was lucky in my school years because there was a resurgence of sorts in running. It was the work of a passionate teacher who decided to take it upon himself to raise a huge team to represent our school. I remember going away to meets where we got to travel as a complete team, from fastest to slowest, and needed two buses just to get the whole team to the event. The days were spent watching and cheering other runners as you waited for your start time; of course, the bus rides back consisted of fun times and dreams of better results no matter what the outcome of the day.

It was times like this that I believe helped me make a big decision in my life, turning away from what was a career job to reach out for something I was passionate about. I found this in a little store on Robson Street where I joined in with a bunch of runners to go for a simple group run, not thinking this would change my life forever. Back then, the Running Room was small, just 11 stores with races and events very old-school in that they consisted of the classic bagel and oranges and the usual tailgate-like hang around after an event.

Of course, this changed. Events grew and so did the company. Now we are involved in most major marathons coast to coast and have recently past the milestone of over 100 stores in Canada. But that being said, we still haven’t forgot where we came from. If you look around at local high school track meets and cross-country events, you will still see our presence and the fact that pure running has never left us. I consider myself quite lucky in that most people cannot say they can combine what they are passionate about with their job each and every day.

I look at the Whistler Spirit Run and see those early days, realizing that when passion takes hold and the right people are in place with a dream in hand, nothing can stop the growth.

The Whistler Spirit Run holds all the right cards in that it is a quest of passion to promote activity and the love of the sport through our youth and masses. It’s an event like no other in that the venue itself was made for greatness and we are just left to fill in the missing pieces.

The best way of putting it is using the words from the famous Finnish runner, Juha Vaatainen: “Stadiums are for spectators, we runners have nature and that is much better.”