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Running club helps students make the grade

An Okotoks running club has three youths on the right track in regards to their education.
The Big Rock Runners Club handed out its 2020 scholarships on June 20. From left are, Riley Neukom, Grade 10; coach Richard Ellum, Jacob Heuver, Grade 11; coach Mark Toombs and Mackenzie Neufeld, Grade 12.

An Okotoks running club has three youths on the right track in regards to their education.

The Big Rock Runners awarded three scholarships, totalling $1,000, to three Okotoks area runners during an outdoor physical distancing ceremony June 20 at the recreation centre.

The Grade 12 recipient, Mackenzie Neufeld, a recent grad from HTA, said running has helped her with her schoolwork.

“Running helped me realize that if you want something in life you have to work for it,” she said. “Running is a mental game — if you want to achieve something, you have to work for it, put in hours of practice, diet, cross-training… It’s a lifestyle.”

That lifestyle is also part of her hitting the books.

“My academics is as much a lifestyle as my running is,” Neufeld said. “I study a lot and I write — I love school.”

As a runner, Neufeld was a two-time qualifier for the cross-country high school provincial championships. She is also one of the first members of the Okotoks Track and Cross-Country club.

She is enrolled at the University of Alberta where she will study physics and philosophy. Her long-term goal is to become a professor. In the summer of 2019, Neufeld participated in the Women In Scholarship, Engineering, Science and Technology (WISEST) at the University of Alberta.,

She also has the ability to combine her studies with her training.

“I think about physics when I run,” she said with a laugh.

She's now a leader on the track as well as the classroom.

“At our track club I would say Mackenzie, along with a few other members, is the heart and soul of our club,” said OTCC coach Mark Toombs.

Jacob Heuver, a student at Foothills Composite High School, was the Grade 11 recipient of a $150 scholarship. 

"If it wasn't for this club I'm not sure I would be running -- this club is the motivation," Heuver said. "I go because of Mark and Richard (OTCC coach Richard Ellum), they help me do my best every time."

His goal for running is to get to the high school provincials in track and field for 2021 in the 1,500m event. He missed by one spot at regionals in 2019. The effort was there for 2020, but the track and field season was cancelled due to COVID-19. 

He would also like to qualify in the 3,000 metres in 2021.

Academically, he wants to continue to work to his best ability, study hard and go to university after high school. 

Riley Neukom, a Grade 10 student at the Comp, received a $100 scholarship. 

She is known for including everybody at OTCC practices.

“We were at a practice and there was a new girl in the club and she was running by herself during the warm-up,” Toombs said. “Riley broke off from the group she was with and ran with this new girl to introduce herself and welcome her to the club.

“That shows you a bit of Riley’s character.”

Although all three recipients are members of the OTCC, the scholarship is open to all high-school aged students who run and either live in Okotoks or attend an Okotoks area school. 

The ceremony was highlighted by a talk by ultra-marathoner Dave Proctor, an Okotokian who is attempting to run across Canada in 2021 in a record time to raise money for the Canadian Rare Disease Foundation. 

The Big Rock Runners went on hiatus due to COVID-19. However, due to recent loosening of restrictions, the club members are meeting at 9 a.m. outside the Okotoks Recreation Centre entrance on Saturdays for a physical distancing run. 

All runners are invited to come out for a social run. The club has a wide variety of runners from walkers to Boston Marathon competitors. 

The Sheep River Road Race is scheduled for Sept. 26, but details of if and how the run will proceed are undetermined due to COVID-19. 

At present, registration for the run has been suspended. Anyone who has registered will receive a refund if it is cancelled.

OTCC is a club to help track athletes from Grade 7 to 12. Training is at the Crescent Point Regional Field House in the winter and outdoors in the spring.

The coaches do the job on a volunteer basis. Both have run the Boston Marathon and Ellum is a former cross-country and track coach at Foothills Composite High School, where he worked with Wilf Gour, a national-qualified coach.

Jayni Caldwell, a former cross-country coach at the Comp, also assists with OTCC. 

For information about the Big Rock Runners and the OTCC go to


Bruce Campbell

About the Author: Bruce Campbell

Bruce Campbell is the editor for and the Western Wheel newspaper. He is a graduate of Mount Royal College journalism program, 1991. For story tips contact
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