From left to right: Abigail Koch ’25, Kiera Marshall ’25, Aidan Flynn ’24, Kira Cmiel ’23, and Melia Cmiel ’25 show off their volunteer t-shirts. (PAW photo credit: Terry Lee)

Running, biking, swimming–all things a cross country team does as part of their training.  But for the Providence Academy cross country team, they’re also a way to annually partner with a local non-profit organization to help children of all ages and capabilities.

CycleHealth, an Eden Prairie-based non-profit focused on beginning a new “cycle” of health in America through kids, puts together one of their signature events: the BreakAway Kids Triathlon. And for nearly a decade, PA’s cross country team has put in countless volunteer hours to help put together this amazing event.

In 2012, head cross country coach Mrs. Rachel Fogle was on the lookout for a meaningful team outreach.  She recalls,  “I wanted the team to find the value in helping others. [CycleHealth Director] Tony Schiller called me one day, looking for a few volunteers to come and help by running next to a couple of kids with special needs at the triathlon. It’s just expanded from there.” 

Schiller, CycleHealth co-founder, and national triathlon champion spoke about why this event means so much to him: “This race is to give kids a new outlook, and a feeling of ‘I can do things in life.” 

Schiller continued, “For any young person close to where I was as a kid–if they’re not confident in sports or have not had victory in movement–I want to make sure that when they come to one of our events, they cross the finish line and their thought is ‘I just did this.’

The annual Saturday morning event takes a team effort to set up. The first volunteering shifts start on Thursday afternoon and go all the way into late Saturday. Team captain, Sophie Koch ‘22, was one of the many people who were there for almost all of the volunteer shifts. 

Though the hours were demanding, Koch drew on the general enthusiasm to keep her own energy up. She noted, “Just the whole energy of the event, when you’re there at 6:30 in the morning, it’s what keeps you going throughout the day.” 

Koch continued, “It’s a really good team of people to volunteer with because those who are there really want the kids to have a good time. 

XC captain Sophie Koch ’22 poses with her sister, Abigail Koch ’25, in front of the supply van before unloading for the triathlon. (PAW photo credit: CycleHealth)

Schiller agrees, it does take a team to put together the BreakAway Kids Triathlon, and is thankful for the helping hands of PA cross country. “We wouldn’t have been able to get it done without this team. I’m filled with gratitude for the commitment and the joy they bring to the work.”

All this work doesn’t come without a little bit of fun. After the racers had finished, there was a big party in the bubble machine. When asked what her favorite memory from the 2021 Kids Triathlon was, Fogle agreed that she “loved watching the PA volunteers play in the bubbles. It really showed the spirit of the team. They’d spent hours doing grueling work, but they still found the fun in the day.”

David Bakke ’24, Nolan Semsch ’25, Thomas Slattery ’25, and Aly Marshall ’23 pose together before heading off to their stations.

But the hard work and fun do not end here. CycleHealth puts together 4 different events throughout the year, amazing volunteering opportunities and fun outdoor activities to join with family and friends. While the cross country team will be too busy training for sections during CycleHealth’s next event, there are plenty of chances for families and kids of all ages at this year’s Resilinator, an epic 2.5-mile buddy race filled with obstacles and fun challenges. For more information, visit http://cyclehealth.org/events/.