On Wednesday, more than 1,500 youths will compete in the Anthem Peachtree Junior. CONTRIBUTED BY PAUL WARD

Anthem Peachtree Junior gives young runners increased exposure

Earlier this year, Jordan Hicks’ stepfather took him to the track to run.

They saw a track club running, and his stepfather encouraged him to join them, “just don’t let them catch you.”

He didn’t.

“He stayed in front and we just took off from there,” said his mother, Starr Cummings, who lives in East Point. “He has this high energy level and never gets tired for some unknown reason.”

Jordan, 12, a student at the Kindezi at Old Fourth Ward, is among more than 1,500 youths who will compete in the Anthem Peachtree Junior, which will be held Wednesday, the day before the AJC Peachtree Road Race, the world’s largest 10K race.

The Peachtree Junior is typically held in May, but because this is the 5oth running of the Peachtree Road Race, organizers decided to bring the two events closer together so everyone can share in the excitement of the moment.

Related: Why Peachtree Road Race is blessed in more ways than one

To gear up, Jordan said he runs through his neighborhood with his stepdad and his mother, a firefighter. “It feels good,” he said. He follows the advice of a coach, who tells him to focus on his personal best and not always beating the person next to you.

Jordan is a member of the Kilometer Kids Youth Running Series, which features nearly two dozen opportunities for youths to participate in running events ranging from the 50m dash to the 5K.

On Thursday, Jordan can cheer on his mother, who will run her ninth Peachtree Road Race. This year, there will be more than 60,000 people from all over the world, running and walking.

“We wanted to find something to keep him interested in something other than the typical basketball and football,” she said.

Related: First AJC Peachtree Road Race winner still runs strong, just not in front

The event for young soles (and souls) will be held at Piedmont Park and feature a timed mile run or walk, finishing under the same finish line as the Peachtree on 10th Street. That event is for youths ages 6-14. There will also be a dash for children ages 6 and under.

It will feature a finisher’s T-shirt just as in the Peachtree Road Race. After completing the Anthem Peachtree Junior, participants are invited to enjoy a post-race festival in the meadow of Piedmont Park to celebrate the holiday.

People can sign up for the race on-site and also on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Peachtree Health and Fitness Expo at the Georgia World Congress Center.

Of the 1,500 youths participating, 1,000 will take part in the mile race and 500 in the dash.

Roughly 74 percent have an immediate family member in the AJC Peachtree Road Race, and a third have done the Peachtree Junior before, organizers said. The participant coming from the farthest place is Bermuda.

By including young runners, organizers hope to encourage youths to adopt healthy and fitness-related lifestyles through running.

Alexis Bowers, an 11-year-old student at the Kindezi at Old Fourth Ward, will run her fifth Peachtree Junior.

Her strategy is to pace herself and try to avoid distractions.

“I focus on the scenery around me and running,” said Alexis, who also plays volleyball, basketball, soccer, lacrosse and bikes.

Does she think it will prepare her for her first Peachtree Road Race? Perhaps, but it will be a while.

Alexis said she doesn’t plan to run the 10K until she’s 32.

That even surprises her mother, Maria Curione, a registered nurse.

Related: Keeping runners safe is a team effort

“Thirty-two,” she said in surprise. “You can do it at 16.”

Alexis, though, isn’t having it — at least not yet.

“I want to focus on school and graduate from college,” she said.

Curione of Atlanta still thinks the race for youths is “an awesome opportunity,” she said. “This gives them exposure to races on a larger scale. When they cross the finish line, it’s great.”

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