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Pre-teen making strides alongside father

Like father, like son.

Fred Luongo has been a regular presence at races throughout Western New York for years. Lately, though, 12-year-old son Dan is following in his dad's footsteps.

"Dan started running through the Mount St. Joe's track program in kindergarten, in their bubble gum series," said Fred, a Buffalo dentist with three other children. "Probably after seeing me as a runner, both training and running in races, he wanted to run too."

Fred and Dan might be the most visible parent-child running combination in the area, in part because both wear colorful shirts for races. Father's Day offers a perfect opportunity to discuss potential trouble spots and benefits to children who run.

When it comes to making sure his son doesn't injure himself, Fred has asked the question, "How long a race is too long?"

"I tried to get some definitive answers on that," Fred said. "Dan's twin sister, Curreen, ran as well [when they started a few years ago], and they ran together at their first races. They helped each other out, and ran/walked. Eventually he went out on his own.

"His first race was the Jog for the Jake about four years ago. There were a lot of parents there, and it was supervised. Eventually, he graduated to all running. He's broken nine minutes a mile."

Dan ran 27:23 for a 5-kilometer race in May.

There's also the matter of too much training at a young age, before the body is ready for that particular load. Dan handles that by making running just a part of his leisure activities.

"He's so active with other sports -- basketball, baseball, track, Rollerblading, in other words, just being a kid -- that the running is part of the cross-training," Fred said.

All that exercise is good in an era when it is estimated that 20 percent of American children are obese.

"The wonderful thing is that in Mount St. Joe's and the track program, we had 58 of 65 eligible kids run," Luongo said. "With the exception of a couple, it's a group of fit kids."

Luongo sees fitness as only one of benefit to running with his son. It's brought them closer together.

"One time we were talking after a run, and Dan said he was hurting. But he added, 'It's a good hurt.' We have those bonding times," said Fred, who has been running since dental school.

"One of my most favorite moments came at the Jingle Bell Run one December. The winds were just howling -- must have been 40 miles per hour. I know he was hesitant about running. I said, 'Do you want to do this?' He said after a second of thought, 'Yes.' The beauty of running is the accomplishment of finishing."

Then there are the social advantages for a 12-year-old. Dan is generally treated as just another runner at the starting line. Not many sports do that for children.

"He's got adult friends that I never had when I caddying for my father. I was just the person pulling the [golf] bag," Fred said.

Fred and Dan will be up together this morning to take part in the Jog for the Jake in Delaware Park. It's part of a full Father's Day.

"Then we'll have a barbecue, and maybe some homework," Fred said.

***

Adios, Jim

Western New York's loss is North Carolina's gain.

Jim Wahl, one of the area's top runners, is moving to Raleigh next month. He is starting his career in the life sciences industry.

Wahl takes a bit of glory with him. He was the fastest American finisher in the recent Ottawa marathon. He took his personal best down 10 minutes to 2 hours, 34 minutes, 21 seconds, good for 22nd place out of 3,100 runners.

***

Race calendar

*Jog for the Jake, 5K, Delaware Park/Nichols School, 9:30 a.m. today, 856-3500.

*Dirty Duathlon, 4-mile run/10-mile bike ride, Holiday Valley Ski Resort, 10 a.m. today .

*Best of Eggertsville 5K, 1317 Eggert Road, Amherst, 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, 631-3960.

*St. Gregory the Great's Great Race, 5K, 200 St. Gregory Court, Williamsville, 7 p.m. Friday, 634-0961.

*Independent Health Foundation's Kids Run, 1.8 miles, Delaware Park, 10 a.m. Saturday, 635-4818.

*Bemus Point 10K, Long Point State Park Bath House, 9 a.m June 24, 488-0788.

e-mail: bbailey@buffnews.com

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