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DISTANCE RUNNING Garcia's love of track leads to 28th camp



Published: Sat, June 4, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Camp Fitch program is set in July.

By JOE SCALZO

VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF

Mike Garcia was a freshman football coach at Fitch High in the mid-1960s when track and field first grabbed hold of him.

"I didn't know anything about track and field, but I asked the coach if I could help out during the season," he said. "That's when I fell in love with the sport."

Nothing's changed since.

This July, for the 28th straight year, Garcia will oversee Camp Fitch's distance running camp. He had his gall bladder removed three weeks ago, but he has no plans of slowing down.

"I've been doing this a long time," he said. "We've had a lot of success and a lot of great runners have come through.

"I don't claim to make them great, but if you follow our program, you'll get better. I promise you that."

YMCA camp

The camp, which is owned and operated by the YMCA, runs July 17-23 and July 24-30. Garcia started with about 30 runners, but it's grown to about 60-65 per week.

"We cut it off at that," he said. "There's a lot of competition."

Campers run twice a day and can put in more than 100 miles a week. They also listen to speakers, watch films and spend time with other runners.

"The biggest thing we work on is motivation," said Garcia, who has coached nine individual state champions and three team champions. "You have to enjoy running and you have to work hard. It's like childbirth. It's painful, but in the end, it's worth it."

Garcia's most famous pupil was Alan Scharsu, the nation's best prep 2-miler in 1977 and 1978.

"We had some guys at Fitch who couldn't walk and chew gum at the same time, but they turned out to be great runners," said Garcia, who coached at Fitch from 1968-97. "Alan Scharsu had bad running form, but he just loved it and worked hard. That's what we pride ourselves on -- the stories of the guys who weren't supposed to be good, but made it anyway.

"Most people reach very little of their potential. That's the main thrust of what we do. We try to help people reach their potential."

The coed camp is open to runners age 11 and older and costs $400. College runners are welcome. Applications are available at the downtown YMCA. For details, call (330) 744-8411.




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