Nine high school foreign exchange students from five countries will have a unique opportunity to experience the Texas Hill Country. Later this month, they’ll be participating in a local trail race.
When Mollie Renardet, the Austin coordinator for CCI Greenheart Cultural Exchange Programs, an international organization that places and supervises exchange students, saw that the Creepy Crawlies and Critters 5K was to take place on Feb. 22, she contacted Trailhead Running about the possibility of her exchange students and their local sponsor families coming out to run or volunteer. Trailhead Running provided ten free entries for the girls and will have special on-course volunteer opportunities for the boys. The YMCA Cypress Creek Ranch near Onion Creek, just north of Buda, will provide the trails and introduction to Texas’ natural beauty.
Linnéa Öst, an 18-year-old student originally from Sweden, has been in Austin for nearly four months and will add this event to her list of amazing local experiences. While she enjoys lifting weights and running, trail racing will definitely be something new for her. “I think this is going to be fun. I've never been in a race before, but I like to run especially on trails, so I'm very excited,” Öst said.
Renardet let the boys know there would be plenty of ways for them to be involved with the women-only race, such as cheering on their female friends through volunteering and on-course support. They didn’t require much enticing; “I'm sure the boys will want to come out, especially with all those girls around,” Renardet said.
Trail running in a different country provides a unique opportunity to see the local landscape in a very natural and untouched way. The exchange students are from Vietnam, Brazil, Germany, and Poland; CCI Greenheart currently has students from some 60 countries available for hosting, and the organization has placed more than 20,000 international students with American families since they began in 1985. Öst’s homeland of Sweden looks very different from the Texas Hill Country, but this is part of what makes her experience so exciting. Öst will also have company out on the course—her own host family. “They do like to run so they might join,” she said. “If not, I'm sure they'll be there anyway.”
Renardet loves the family-friendly aspect of the event and is looking forward to making the trail run an annual part of the students’ exchange experience. She plans to continue this partnership with Trailhead Running and hopes the experience will inspire the high school students to continue trail running after they return to their home countries.
“It’s a great way to not only introduce the kids to trail running but also to invite their host families out to an event they can do with the kids,” Renardet said.
Women on the Trails is a three-race series designed to introduce women to trail racing in a shorter course format (most local trail races start at 25K). Keeping to the traditional trail race format, each event takes place on challenging and varied trails with a small number of participating runners. All races are within a 40-minute drive from downtown Austin and include three distinct venues: Austin, Lake Georgetown, and Buda.
Each course is well marked and set up so that spectators and family can cheer on runners from multiple and accessible locations. Runners and spectators alike are encouraged to hang out after the race and enjoy some post-event refreshment in a social atmosphere.
Tiffany Pritchett signed up for all three Women on the Trail races the first year because she wanted to try something new and heard the races were family friendly. Initially, she was unsure of what to expect, but she made the drive from San Antonio with her dad and 3-year-old daughter Tabitha. After the first race, she was hooked. “I enjoy these races because of the overall togetherness of everyone who races and volunteers,” Pritchett said. “Tabitha and my dad watch me start, there are always people along the courses cheering us on, and Tabitha has ‘finished with me’ in several of the races. The races are family friendly because of the atmosphere, and I have made many different friends from these events.” The series is now an annual family tradition for Pritchett.