A Petersburg seventh-grader does it all just for the sake of fun

·4 min read
After the YMCA Fall Cross-Country race in early November.
After the YMCA Fall Cross-Country race in early November.

Emma Hairston has goals she wants to achieve, but she also wants to have new experiences because they could be fun.

She got into running from kids run in Richmond in 2019 and in 2021 she placed 22 out of 75 girls in the YMCA nationals for cross-country.

Vernon JohnsMiddle School does not have a cross-country team, so the seventh-grader has to run within other organizations, such as the YMCA. Hairston is trying to add the mile for her list of races for track and field season.

“I basically do cross-country to stay in shape,” she explained.

Cross-country races are three miles.

Most runners may dread when the race will be over or worry they may get a cramp. But Hairston focuses on running form and breathing properly to keep going because the form can deteriorate when fatigue sets in during a race.

She started her time as a runner rather young. The 12-year-old participated in the Ukrop Kids Run, part of the Virginia Monument Ave. 10K, and knew she wanted to start running because of how much fun she had.

“So I did three half-mile races, and then I decided that I wanted to do the mile in track,” she said.

At the time, she was only in fifth grade. But she trained and wanted to run more races, then COVID-19 pumped the brakes on the then sixth grader’s competitions she planned to run in the summer of 2020.

Since there were no races, she just trained at the local track at Virginia State University. But when their facilities closed, she did her workouts at the high school.

“I always have to run a mile but we break it up so I do 100 meters two 200 meters, three 300 meters, and four 400 meters,” she explained.

Since she does cross country to stay in shape she does not want to do it at a competitive level. Hairston likes it, but she likes to run track and field more.

Young Emma at the Virginia Monument Ave. Kids run, the race that started it all.
Young Emma at the Virginia Monument Ave. Kids run, the race that started it all.

Petersburg’s only track team is at the high school and her father wishes there were more opportunities for kids to be involved in track. But he understands that it is difficult because there is only one middle school and they would have to find other local teams to run against.

“I would think in most cities or areas that would have a competitive track team,” Thomas Hairston said.

The Hairstons spend weekends in April to July traveling to track meets because that is the only way Emma can participate and maybe elevate her skill set. They travel as north as Maryland and as south as North Carolina just so she can run meets.

Her goal is to run the mile in four minutes and make it to the Olympics in track and field. It takes a lot of work to get there and to balance training she hangs out with her friends as much as possible during the offseason, which she enjoys.

“I play a lot of Roblox and Sims with my friends,” she said.

Since the school year is her offseason Emma makes time for other activities. She currently is a co-captain of the cheerleaders at Vernon Johns.

“Since elementary school, I wanted to cheer but they didn't have a cheer team in elementary school,” she said. “So I watched cheer shows and I thought it'd be fun.”

In addition to cheering she is taking on the role of Ester and Jane in the ensemble for a Christmas Story. She loves all the activities she is in and she is able to balance all her school work.

Even college courses.

Dr. Zoe Spencer's VSU "Race and Ethnic Relations" course field trip to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Dr. Zoe Spencer's VSU "Race and Ethnic Relations" course field trip to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Her aunt teaches a course race and ethnic relations at VSU. She thought it would be fun to be in a class with her and she was able to take the class as a ten-year-old with the support of Petersburg City Public Schools. But that did not mean she got a free pass.

“I learned how to speak in front of people, and especially since they were college students that made it a lot scarier,” she explained.

But her public speaking and research skills improved from being in the class. Since she was in elementary school at the time, her father said PCPS was very supportive.

“Anytime school can help a child to grow, whether it be through sports… educational opportunities, spelling bee… we should support our kids,” Mr. Hairston said.

“We support and encourage all our students to be the best that he or they can be in and out of the classroom,” said Reva Green, principal of Vernon Johns.

But Mr. Hairston also recognizes that it may be harder for some parents to have opportunities such as the ones Emma has for their kids. In Mr. Hairston’s experience, some parents do not know what opportunities the school offers and how to ask for them.

“Just because it's not a Petersburg sanctioned activity, does not mean that the school should not support it,” he concluded.

Other than the play, cheerleading, training for track and field, and school, Emma is also writing a book about a child opening a lemonade stand over the summer. She is a 12-year-old doing a lot, all for the sake of fun.

Emma Hairston, Vernon Johns Middle Schooler.
Emma Hairston, Vernon Johns Middle Schooler.

Zoe Collins Rath (she/her/hers) is a sports and education reporter for the Progress-Index. For times email her at ZCollinsRath@gannett.com or follow her on Twitter @zoe_jordan99.

This article originally appeared on The Progress-Index: A Petersburg seventh-grader does it all just for the sake of fun

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting