Local sisters bring their popular Sunshine Sprinters track-and-field program to Lake Mary.
Sisters Sydney and Mackenzie Forrest grew up in the world of competitive gymnastics, but it was track and field that changed their lives.
The sisters – who both attended Lake Mary Preparatory School – felt so strongly that track and field made a positive impact on their lives that they wanted to spread that positivity to other Central Florida children. That led to the creation of Sunshine Sprinters, a program in which the sisters introduce kids to the different elements of the sport they love so much. For the past few summers, they have been running the program for children ages four to 12 in Winter Park. This fall, they are bringing Sunshine Sprinters to Lake Mary as an after-school program at Lake Mary High School for elementary and middle-school students.
Both Sydney and Mackenzie found a passion for pole-vaulting in high school, and now both are competing at the collegiate level. Sydney, 21, competes in the pole vault and triple jump at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, where she is a junior. Mackenzie, 18, is starting her freshman year competing in the same events for Boston’s Babson College.
Though there are well-established running programs in Seminole County schools, the sisters recognized a need to introduce kids to field events such as shot put, discus, javelin, and high-jumping before they reached high school. They also felt it was important to include lessons about nutrition and wellness in the Sunshine Sprinters program – instruction young athletes do not receive from traditional recreational sports programs – as well as special instruction from guest coaches from around the area in specific areas like agility and speed. Sunshine Sprinters brings in guest speakers like Olympic gymnast Kathy Johnson to inspire the kids, as well. There is a fee to participate in the program, but no student is turned away for lack of ability to pay.
Mackenzie hopes the Sunshine Sprinters will help pass down the benefits of sports to another generation of local kids.
“I’ve been involved with sports from a young age, and it has always been a way for me to let go of all the tension of school,” says Mackenzie. “I think it’s important for everyone to have something like that, where they can go to relax and let go. Also, our program is not just about track and field and sports. It’s also about being healthy. Even if kids don’t love running, they can also learn about calisthenics and gymnastics or other sports in our program.”
Sydney believes track and field is a good program for children to start because it is more versatile than other youth sports.
“There are 17 different events in this sport, and you get to pick which ones you want to do,” she says.
“It was hard for me to find coaches for events like pole vault or triple jump, even at my high school,” says Mackenzie. “Our program makes it easy to have access to coaches, which is really special.”
Kelly Wilhite’s daughter Leighton, now six and in first grade, has been attending the Sunshine Sprinters program for the past two summers.
“This program is amazing because it gives younger children a chance to get involved in running and other events,” says Kelly. “It teaches them the beginning skills they need for running while motivating them and having fun.”
Kelly adds that Sunshine Sprinters has made her little girl focus on some big dreams already.
“Leighton has decided she wants to earn a college scholarship in running because of this program!” she says.
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