LAKEWOOD RANCH — Ordinarily, if you were to ask someone to run 100 miles in the blazing Florida sunshine, his or her response would be less than enthusiastic.
But luckily for Willis Elementary School speech teacher Catherine Burchell, she didn’t ask just anyone. After learning about the Florida Keys 100, a 100-mile ultramarathon from Key Largo to Key West, Burchell approached her colleagues about creating a team at Willis to compete in the event.
The idea received tremendous support, and soon, Six Geckos Strong was born.
“This event was a challenge I had never done before, and I liked the team concept, especially since I work with four of the other teammates,” Willis physical education teacher Mary Quinn said. “I have always encouraged my students and athletes to set goals and the strive to reach them, and that is exactly what I hope to do during this run.”
On May 16, the team, which included Burchell, Quinn, who also coaches cross-country at Lakewood Ranch High, physical education teacher Jason Morales, third-grade teacher Kaitlyn Leake, fifth-grader teacher Dan DeJong and distance runner Matt Holley, competed in the team relay event of the Florida Keys 100.
“The thing I am looking most forward to is the camaraderie our team will share during our long day of racing,” Leake said before the race. “We can pick each other up, cheer each other on, and just be there for one another.”
During the 100-mile relay race, four members of Six Geckos Strong ran 17-mile legs while the remaining two ran 16-mile legs. The team joined together to run the final 200 meters together, crossing the finish line in 15:41:17 to receive their finishing medals.
“It was fun just to all be together and work together as a team,” Burchell said. “The support for everyone was amazing. I felt very fortunate to be a part of this team, and I believe this brought us all closer together.”
The team began preparing for the Florida Keys 100 in mid-March. Through the help of students, faculty and staff, the team was able to raise money for registration fees and prostate cancer by hosting a coin drive, which generated $600, and a sports dress down day.
All proceeds from the Florida Keys 100 benefited the Richard J. Fox Foundation to help aid in the fight against prostate cancer by providing funding for educational outreach and free prostate cancer screenings in South Florida and the Keys.
After Six Geckos Strong was formed, Willis art teacher Aaron Cratty designed the front of the team’s race shirts, which were printed and donated by Fleet Feet of Sarasota. Without formally training together, each member of the team hit the streets on his or her own to prepare for the ultramarathon, focusing on distance, strength training and how to run in the heat, among other factors.
“Running the Florida Keys 100 is something very special to all of us,” Quinn said. “Although the run was extremely difficult and challenging, I believe all of us would do it again because of the great support we had for one another. We became closer as a team each mile that we ran, sharing in one goal — to help each other to complete the full 100 miles.”
For more information on the race, visit www.keys100.com.
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].