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6-year-old Connor Shiffer of Shelby County is a running man

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By Stephanie Dunn

Connor Shiffer loves to run.  And run…and run… Remember how Forrest Gump ran and ran and ran in the movie, for a very long period of time, only stopping when he felt that he had run all he could run?  This kid is like that in a way, only he really doesn’t like to stop – just ask his parents.

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“He never gets tired of running,” said his dad, Carey Shiffer. “In fact, he makes us feel bad when we can’t take him out for a run. He gets very upset when he can’t run, especially if he’s gotten all dressed up for a long run.”

According to Dad, Connor, 6, expressed an interest in running at age 5, the summer before he started kindergarten at Southside Elementary. The Shiffers would go to Clear Creek Park and run/walk, and at one point Carey and his wife, Roxanna, challenged Connor and his three siblings – Tristan, 13, Felipe, 11, and Carrie, 8 – to see who could complete one whole lap around the 1-mile-plus outdoor trail.

“To our surprise, Connor didn’t want to stop running after Lap One,” Carey Shiffer said. “After that, it was always what he wanted to do. When he knew dad was going out for a jog, he begged to go.” 

And so fired the starting gun that began young Connor’s love of running…

 

A racing life

His first big race was in November of 2012, the Louisville Pure Tap 5K, which he ran with his mom.

Roxanna Shiffer smiles at the memory. “He ran the whole time – we thought he’d run/walk, but he just ran,” she said. “We got close to the finish line, and I had gotten really tired, and I said, ‘Connor, just go!’  And off he went to the finish line, 10 seconds ahead of me.”

He finished first in his division of 10 years old and under. 

Next was the Turkey Trot, here in Shelbyville, where he won in his age division again…and he was ready for more. Realizing Connor’s great enjoyment of running, his parents entered him in the Kentucky Derby Triple Crown of Running.

“We figured for sure he’d be able to run the Anthem 5K and maybe run/walk the 10K, but to our surprise he ran the entire 10K [6.2 miles],” Carey Shiffer said. “The ten-miler was next, and we were unsure of how he would handle that, but again, Connor proved us wrong and finished the race nonstop.

“The ten-miler course ran through Iroquois Park, a tough, hilly course – and Connor finished ahead of thirteen hundred other runners.”

 

Louisville’s loss is Indy’s gain

The Shiffers entered him in the Derby mini-marathon, but as it turned out, his dad said, the Derby Commission didn’t feel comfortable with such a young boy running the race and refunded the family’s money.  However, out of lemons came lemonade – those in charge of the Indianapolis Marathon and Half-Marathon heard about the episode and invited Connor to come strut his stuff at Indy. 

On Saturday, Roxanna and Carey both ran the race with Connor, and Roxanna gave an account of race day at the Indianapolis Half-Marathon:

“We arrived on Friday night, and many people were surprised to see such a young boy running the half-marathon – the majority of the youth were running the 5K.  Saturday morning was wet and cold, and about forty-four degrees outside.  When we first got there, Connor was interviewed by a local news station, and then we went off to stretch for about thirty minutes.  We made sure to remind him of the importance of pacing himself and making sure he had fun, then got in our corral to start the race – lots of people were in awe of him choosing to run the half and of him being able to run that distance.

“It was a miserable and soggy run, and Connor was wet and cold.  At Mile 7 he told dad his hands were hurting, and they stopped at a restroom to warm his hands under the hand dryer, and tried to dry Connor’s gloves.  Dad said to Connor then, ‘It’s Mile 7, and we still have six more to go…if you want to quit now, it will be okay.  I won’t be disappointed if you do.’ 

“Connor said, ‘No, I don’t want to quit – let’s finish.’

“They got to Mile 13, and I was done and waiting for them.  I ran behind Connor, cheering him on as he crossed the finish line.  As he was running toward the finish, they announced Connor as the youngest participant to ever run the Indianapolis Half-Marathon.”

 

Devoted to running

Training for Connor’s races is fairly uncomplicated, as would befit a now-6-year-old boy. If the course of the upcoming race has hills, he and his dad go to the park and hit some running trails with hills, and his mileage per week hinges on the distance of the race.  But usually not more than 10 to 12 miles per week, his dad said.

It may sound as if Connor’s life is completely about running and training for races, but there’s plenty more to this boy… we talked to Connor and his sister, Carrie, and got the following information:

“He likes to play Army with my brothers,” Carrie said.  “He stabs people.”

“I like basketball,” Connor said, “and to eat ice cream, and school, and I like my new shoes. And I like to put on my Sissy’s comfortable socks.”

This brings laughter from his sister and mom, who explained that Connor just got a new pair of running shoes that he’s very proud of, and that Carrie does indeed have some very cushy socks.

That said, the fact remains that, as his dad puts it, “He never, ever gets tired of running.”

Where does this energy come from? His mother said she believes that he spends the night “winding up for the next day” and pops out of bed ready to go. Connor may have inherited his running gene from her – she ran track and cross country as a youth, and both parents spent time in the U.S. Army, where running is a way of life.

Carey Shiffer currently works in Louisville at Container and Packaging Supply, and Roxanna is a stay-at-home mom, and with four children, affording Connor’s passion is no easy feat, no pun intended.

“Entry fees and the proper running gear can get expensive,” he admitted. “We’re raising four kids on one paycheck, and are not financially able to get him in a lot of the races, so we choose carefully.”

 

It’s good for him

The Shiffers did receive some help with the Indianapolis Half-Marathon from Dr. Paul Goodlett, Connor’s doctor, in the form of a sponsorship.  Carey Shiffer said that Dr. Goodlett is fully aware and very supportive of Connor’s distance running.

Most people in the running community are, he said, but to those who would question the wisdom of letting Connor running the long-distance races he loves, he says this:

“The stigma on running needs to change.…Running is viewed as a punishment in many other sports. Some people don’t understand why a little kid would want to run these distances. Well, if you know Connor, you know he loves to run – but he also loves video games all the other things other kids like to do.

“With so many kids today not wanting to exercise and spending so much time on the Internet, maybe Connor can inspire others to get out there and just enjoy running. I refuse to stop him from running.”

In addition, the Shiffers have consulted a physical therapist and a pediatric surgeon, neither of whom have an issue with the child’s distance running.

“Connor’s interest in running is pretty much all him,” Carey summed up. “He loves to compete, especially with himself.”

“Here’s what we love about Connor,” his mother said. “He doesn’t expect a medal for doing this.  He just does it because he loves it.”