Connor Shiffer at a water stop while running a recent race.
Dr. Laura Jacks
LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - In the huge herd of horses galloping their way thru the Triple Crown of Running this year, there was a pony - a five year old boy. Connor Shiffer was by far the youngest to ever tackle the three races: 3, 6 and 10 miles. He wanted to run 13, in the famous Kentucky Derby Festival miniMarathon, but three weeks before the race his registration was rejected, money refunded, and his dad resisted.
"They said they were looking out for his safety," said Carey Shiffer, Connor's father. "But I'm more interested in his safety than anybody and if I thought it was unsafe I wouldn't enter him."
"We look at it from the perspective of how much run experience do they have," said Deja Lawson, the race director.
Connor's parents said his resume is already impressive. He completed 7 mile training runs for months. He finished ahead of thousands in the Triple Crown. In 2012, the miniMarathon had nine finishers in the 0 to 10 age division. Some finishers were as young as eight years old.
"He's trained so hard for it," Carey Shiffer said. "If they were to look at him as an individual instead of just on paper, they would see not only is he capable, but he'll be better prepared than a lot of runners that was there. I mean he bested 2,100 on the last run."
"That's a great accomplishment for him and his family, and that is their experience with that runner," said Lawson. "From our perspective, committee and staff, just are not comfortable at this time."
"What would it look like for a 5 year old to be out there at the start line with 16,000 other runners and from a safety perspective that was a really big issue for us," said Robert Young, Derby Festival PR director.
Connor is their youngest race applicant ever, and the first they've ever rejected. They say it's about more than just running experience.
"We look for, are they a part of a school program, playing soccer, field hockey, organized sports where they had a medical physical, they are conditioning majority of the year," Lawson said.
With more people getting involved in running, this controversy raises the question: How young is too young for distance running?
"Well initially I thought of course, it makes sense, don't run it," said Patrick Myers of Apex Physical Therapy. "The child's developing, still growing, lots of safer sports, growth plate left in bones to grow and expand and I thought no, they have plenty of years to run."
Then Myers did some research, analyzing studies on injuries of distance runners as young as seven, and changed his mind.
"Those injuries with youth participants were about half what the adult participants had," said Myers.
Dr. Laura Jacks is an orthopedic surgeon. Of the 100 children she was scheduled to see that, she said one or two would have stress fractures, mostly from cheerleading and gymnastics
"I don't personally think that there is a too young limit," said Jacks. "I think it's child centered. Every child is different. How young is too young to play in back to back soccer games? How young is too young to play in doubleheader baseball games. I don't think there is a limitation."