Jennifer Adamy, head coach and cross-country commissioner, shares an elbow-bump with an athlete from St. Anthony School in Tigard. (Courtesy CYO)
Jennifer Adamy, head coach and cross-country commissioner, shares an elbow-bump with an athlete from St. Anthony School in Tigard. (Courtesy CYO)

Isaac Forquer, chairman of the Catholic Youth Organization track and cross-country running commission, erred slightly on his clockwork. In early February, he proudly slated CYOs first ever cross-country time trials and practice for 5-7 p.m., with batches of kids coming every 15 minutes or so to keep good distance.

But, alas, that’s the start time he usually uses for track and field workouts, which come in the spring, after daylight saving time begins. It was not until the wee hours on the day of practice that Forquer recognized his blunder, caused by the odd pandemic sports calendar. This is usually time for CYO basketball, which could not happen because of potential spread of the virus indoors and because many Catholic school gymnasiums are now being used as classrooms. Cross-country, the outdoor sport extraordinaire, is filling the gap.

Forquer dashed off a note to all 45 families, telling them he would understand if they didn’t want their youngsters running in the dark of night.

Undeterred, 43 runners showed up. 

“That speaks volumes about what families want now,” said Forquer.

A former Portland State University biochemistry teacher and now a middle school math and science teacher at St. Cecilia School in Beaverton and head cross-county coach for Holy Trinity School in Beaverton, Forquer has a concise answer for the popularity of CYO running right now: “It gives kids something to do that doesn’t involve staring at a screen.” As the father of two youngsters, Forquer knows of what he speaks.

CYO held its first meet at Jesuit High School Feb. 27. The second run is set to circumnavigate Camp Howard March 6, with runners plunging into the woods, looking over the Bull Run watershed and catching glimpses of Mount Hood. 

Forquer is a philosopher of sport who delights in how cross-country gets runners into the wild, where rain, sleet, trees, roots, rocks and molehills are in play. “It’s a way to reveal God’s world to kids in such a unique way,” he said.

On top of that, runners are called upon to take care of themselves with good sleep and a healthy diet. “I hope they get a fresh look at a new lifestyle,” Forquer said.

He was a sprinter in his day. But his son joined cross-country and Forquer has fallen for the sport. It takes “mental fortitude,” he said. “I have great respect for kids who run cross-country. These kids are signing up to hurt.”

The running community is highly supportive, with everyone rooting for everyone else, he explained.

That’s what CYO is about, said Sister Krista von Borstel, a Sister of St. Mary of Oregon who is executive director of CYO/Camp Howard. 

“I have always wanted to bring cross-country to CYO,” said Sister Krista, who took part in the sport as a youth. “It just gives kids an opportunity for an activity they can do anywhere at any time. It takes no gear, and there are so many beautiful places around the area to run, including Camp Howard.”

Stumptown Running Club stepped forward to help with the new CYO sport. Tom Rothenberger, co-founder of the club, is legendary running coach at Jesuit High School. Jesuit teams are famous for cheering on all runners, no matter their school or their ranking.

Sister Krista praises that tradition and wants to infuse CYO with it. She also likes cross-country because it can bring families together and offers a sense of accomplishment at many levels, whether that is finishing the course, beating your own best time, or winning the day.   

Plans call for another CYO cross-country season in the fall.