Concordia Couch Potatoes keep eyes on prize

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 24, 2013

CHINA GROVE — Neither rain nor heat nor frigid temperatures will keep the Concordia Couch Potatoes from their appointed run.
Twice a week, this faithful bunch gathers in the parking lot of Concordia Lutheran Church for an evening run. They’ll log anywhere from 3.1 to 4.5 miles, running on Concordia Church Road and sometimes over to Corriher Springs Road.
In January, the group will celebrate its third year. Its members have accomplished everything from 5Ks to marathons to Iron Man competitions. In other words, they’ve come a long way from the couch.
Several years ago, Kim Starnes approached Crystal Karriker because she wanted to start running. Crystal, a fitness instructor at the South Y and certified personal trainer, knew there were a few others in the congregation interested in starting a running program. She and Miriam Lowery agreed to facilitate, and the Concordia Couch Potatoes were born. The group started out at the very beginning, walking and jogging a total of 20 minutes for three times a week. The goal of the Couch Potato to 5K Program is to eventually run a 5K race, a total of 3.16 miles.
“Our first 5K, we took 45 people,” Crystal says proudly.
They haven’t stopped running since.
Before they hit the road last Sunday, members showcased a whole table full of hardware — ribbons they’d earned over the past year.
“If we had three years’ worth, we’d need two tables,” Crystal says.
Crystal has been running since she was 12, and she’s 41 now. “I just finished my second Iron Man competition,” she says. “I made it in 12 hours flat. I finished fifth in the masters division. That is the diamond in my crown of accomplishments.”
What about marathons?
“Oh God, yes,” she says.
Others in the group have accomplished similar feats.
Jason Ritchie has been with the group since it started. He really got into it, he says, in June 2011, after his nephew died.
“I needed to get out,” he says. “I needed stress relief.”
He also needed to change his lifestyle. His doctor wanted to put him on cholesterol medicine. He’d been on medicine for high blood pressure for several years.
“I told them, no, I would start exercising,” says Jason, 37.
He’s lost 30 pounds, his cholesterol has dropped and his doctor plans to take him off the blood pressure medicine within six months. He cut out burgers and fried foods, and cut his five Diet Sun-Drops per day down to one.
He’s finished four half-marathons and two Tough Mudder competitions. “We’re fixing to start training for a marathon in the spring,” he says. “I didn’t do anything before this. I feel awesome. Crystal and Miriam have been absolutely wonderful. Crystal knows how to bring out the best in you. She knows how to push each person, and Miriam’s rough and tough.”
Jason’s entire family, which includes wife Jenni, 39, and their sons Jacob, 9, and James 6, are all runners now.
Amanda Faggart and her husband, Jonathan, both 31, have been a part of the runners group. Although Jonathan takes Crystal’s boot camp class at the South Rowan Y, running is really not his favorite thing, his wife admits.
It’s a different story with Amanda.
“I’ve never been an athlete at all,” she says. “I would try to get out of PE in school.”
“We’ve created a monster,” notes Miriam, 46.
Amanda has completed a 10K, half-marathon, Tough Mudder and lots of 5Ks.
“My goal is to do a marathon a some point, but I’m too busy thinking about more babies,” says the mother of two girls, 3 and 1.
The group is for walkers, too. Twice a week, Lee Goodnight and Ray Preston Karriker don neon green vests over their long-sleeved shirts, and, clad in jeans and ball caps, take off at a brisk pace from church. They’re second cousins and lifelong friends, so they do a lot of talking as they walk.
Lee is 76, and Ray Preston is 84. They took up walking 5Ks, they say, to stay in shape. Ray Preston even did a mud run.
“I just wanted to see if I could,” he says, likening it to rabbit hunting. “It was a good event.”
“I’m proud of him!” says Miriam, his daughter.
On the other end of the age spectrum is Joey Ashley, 18, a freshman at UNCC, who joined the group when it formed.
“I did drop off the bandwagon for awhile,” Joey admits, “but I’m doing better than ever.”
As evidence, he says, he ran 29:07 at the China Grove 5K race in June, and his time at the recent Spooky Sprint was 24:52. Over the past three years, he’s lost 30 pounds.
The thing he likes best about the group, he says, is how close everyone is. “If you’re having a bad day, you can go out there and they make you feel better. They always have your back. And if you ever need an opinion, you know somebody’s got one.”
Henry Goodnight, 54, also enjoys the camaraderie. He joined the group because he was interested in doing the Buck Hurley Triathlon at the Salisbury Y. Since then, he’s completed 5Ks, triathlons, duathlons, mud runs, two half marathons and the Half Iron Man competition on Oct. 26 with Crystal and Sandy and Jennifer Fowler.
“Anything we’ve done,” Henry says, “we’ve gradually increased our distance and mileage, and met our goals. Doing it together is the fun part. We get together to celebrate our accomplishments. With all the running, sweat and tears, it’s fun to celebrate every once and a while.”
Jennifer, 42, joined the runners group after her grandmother died.
“I needed something to refocus,” she says. Sandy, 48, came with her, to wait for her while she ran. At the time, he had just had knee surgery and was walking with a cane. He was also 60 pounds heavier.
He was told, however, “Get up and walk!”
So he did.
Since then, the couple has done the Half Iron Man competition, 25 5Ks, one 10K, five half-marathons, one marathon and two Sprint triathlons.
“We’ll keep doing it,” Sandy says, even though training for the Half Iron Man “got very tiresome.”
They just kept going.
Henry, Jason, Crystal and Miriam are also part of the Early Risers, a running group that runs Saturday and Sunday mornings around 4:30. Yeah, that’s a.m. They cover anywhere from 8 to 12 miles a morning. Other members of the group include Donna Stallings and Ellen Howard.
“Even if it gets down to 22 degrees, we’re out there,” Crystal says. Running in the dark doesn’t bother them, she says. They know the roads well.
Sometimes, she says, it’s better not to know what’s ahead.

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.