CLARKSTON, Ga. — We all love underdog stories. This one involved an incredibly diverse cross country team that worked their way to a state title.
Their journey gained national attention, and it hit home for a sporting goods company based in Atlanta.
“Ninety percent of these are refugee kids,” said Andrew Hunt, manager of Big Peach Running Company. “These kids are literally from war-torn areas of the world, so they’re extremely happy for anything you give them.”
Members of the Clarkston High School cross-country team were in for a big surprise.
They were told they were going to breakfast together on Monday morning.
But at the last minute, coaches directed them to the Big Peach Running Company.
Inside, representatives from Mizunohad running gear and running shoes lined up for them. Mizuno USA’s headquarters are in Norcross, only 12 miles from Clarkston.
“It’s amazing, I’m really grateful for all of this,” Clarkston High senior Chevon Guthrie said.
The student-athletes were treated like the champions they are, with a professional fitting that included an analysis of how they run.
Big Peach and Mizuno stepped up after seeing 11Alive’s story on the team last week.
“When it was first brought to our attention, discussion turned to how quickly can we do something,” said Ahmet Abaci, Vice President for Brand Marketing and Management for Mizuno.
These underfunded underdogs won the state men’s 5A cross-country team title without the fancy gear many other teams sported.
“With the shoes I was running with, my feet hurt,” said senior Gidey Sahlu. “I never thought I could have these shoes to run with. Now I do, I’m very grateful.”
“We want our gear and shoes to get out of the way and help them achieve what’s in their hearts and minds, because it’s the team and individual effort that will help them get to the next level,” Abaci said.
Support for the team has been overwhelming. People in Atlanta and around the country, including rival cross country teams, gave a total of more than $5,000 to an online fundraising site to buy championship rings for the team.
“I’ve told them to remember you’re still the same people. People are treating you the way they want to treat you guys because they think you’ve done well. Take it the way it is, and enjoy the moment, enjoy the moment,” Clarkston head cross country coach Wesley Etienne said.
Indeed, they found the joy in this moment.