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Running Cougar Coach is True Beacon of Light and Hope

Carib Press, Feature, Sheannette Virtue Posted: Feb 02, 2009

LOS ANGELES - The evening practice at West Los Angeles College was energetic and surreal. A thunderstorm threatened overhead, but Coach Chris Faulknor had the full attention of 20 young athletes who ranged in age from 9 to 17 and not just because of his bright yellow sweat jacket.

Faulknor known to the young athletes as "Coach Chris" shows an extraordinary range of emotions and boundless energy, all mixed with a serious focus on making sure that his young athletes are making the grade in the classroom and on the field. That's why the youngsters spent five minutes on disciplined warm ups before dutifully heading up a nearby hill to get their usual three-mile run started.

"This is a track program, and the number one goal is to produce great athletes, but we want to ensure that the athletes maintain good grades," he says. "I want the kids to know that academics are important, so the parents are required to submit a copy of the report cards for my review."

Faulknor is a one-time Olympian who represented his native Jamaica as part of the 400-meter relay team at the 1988 games in Seoul, South Korea, where a 4th-place finish left him just fractions of a second away from a meal. (His old coach for the Jamaican national team, Glen Mills, struck plenty of gold this year, though, thanks to the presence on his squad of Usain Bolt, who blazed his way into the record books at the Olympics in Beijing, China).

Faulknor is now a USA Track and Field (USATF) Level 1 certified coach and official, and working with young athletes has become a passion. His post as head coach and president of Southern California Running Cougars (SCRC) fills the bill. Faulknor founded the SCRC in 1999 as a non-profit track-and-field organization with a focus on physical activities as well as intellectual and emotional growth. The mission is met through the promotion of teamwork, sportsmanship, the spirit of competition, and an emphasis on good nutrition, says Faulknor, who is a certified electrician when he's not on the track.

Faulknor "sets high standards for the athletes and himself," says Julie LaBeach, who serves as SCRC's secretary and assistant coach. "He expects the athletes to come to practice and give 110% every time. He does not ask anything of the athletes that he is not prepared to do himself, whether at practice or competition."

SCRC's track and field program first started in 1999 with 9 youths, and now serves 103 active members. SCRC currently relies on funding from LA84 Foundation, a private non-profit institution with surplus funds from the 1984 Olympics Games. The organization also supplements its $80,000 annual budget by selling raffle tickets and soliciting donations from small businesses and individuals.

It's been a long road for Faulknor from any perspective. He grew up in Jamaica, where he enjoyed athletics from an early age. He played soccer first, and then began running track at age 15. While attending Santa Monica City College, Faulknor received a track scholarship to attend Abilene Christian University (ACU) in Texas, and was a member of the NCAA Division II championship team in the late 1980s. Now 46, he still competes at the Masters level of USATF, and currently holds the top ranking among sprinters qualifier in his age group. Faulknor took first place in the 60 meters this past February at the Arizona Indoor Classic in Flagstaff, and in April 2008 he finished second in the 100 meters at the prestigious Penn Relays in Philadelphia.

Faulknor's athletic ability and experience play crucial roles in helping SCRC cover limited resources to inspire and develop excellence among its young members. The program is staffed with other USATF-certified staffers, along with devoted parents who volunteer. The goal of staffers and volunteers alike is to bring out the full potential of sprinters and middle-distance runners (up to 1500m), long jumpers, high jumpers, shot putters, and javelin and discus throwers. Successes have been punctuated by tragedy Bryshon Nellum earned a promising future through his work at the SCRC camp, and recently earned an athletic scholarship to USC. Bryshon was shot in the legs while walking out of a restaurant near USC just a few weeks ago. According to a confidential source, his condition is stable and his future as a runner remains hopeful.

The SCRC spirit continues on, though, and Faulknor takes pride in serving as a father figure to many of the youths. He knows that times are hard and some parents are feeling the credit crunch. Some with two kids in the program have recently been unable to afford the $150-per-season dues for each. SCRC has offered to split the difference, waving the fee for the second child.

And Faulknor remains focused on the good that come of the program even with hard times.

"The best feeling is when the athletes are breaking records then I feel a sense of accomplishment," he says.

More info:
Southern California Running Cougars (SCRC)

Sheannette Virtue is a writer for Carib Press.

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