If you run any 5K races in the area, chances are good you’ve seen the Franklins — dad Jason and daughters Jessica, Amanda and Alexa — running in their bright green T-shirts.
And you’ve probably seen the Mahomet residents picking up some age-group awards after a race as well.
Twelve-year-old Jessica started running 5K races two years ago at the Fisher Fair 5K, where she won her age division. She liked racing so much, she ran 14 5Ks that year, winning her age group in 13 of them.
In 2010, at age 11, she was the overall female winner in 10 of her 20 races, and she ran her best time of 20:18. Her goal this year is to break 20 minutes.
She’s competed in four races so far this summer (after breaking an ankle playing basketball this spring), and in her second race, Rantoul’s Rockin the Runway 5K, she was the overall female finisher. She also was the women’s overall winner for the new 5K championship race circuit, which concluded with the Fisher Fair race on July 16.
Her sisters, 11-year-old Amanda and 9-year-old Alexa, ran their first 5K races in 2009 at the Arthur Cheese Festival. The three sisters took first through third places in their age division at that race.
Dad Jason started out running with Jessica during races, talking to her about where she was in the race, helping her pace herself and encouraging her. Now she’s too fast for him. He runs with Alexa, and Amanda is usually within sight of them.
They all wear their green T-shirts, from Franklin’s ACT test preparation business, to make it easy to find each other at races.
“I like sprinting, feeling the air on my face, and just running,” Jessica said.
Alexa especially likes races that are part of town festivals the family can visit after they run. She set a goal of running under 24 minutes this year, and she did so at the Illinois Marathon 5K, running 23:57.
Amanda likes running with her sisters and cousins, but she doesn’t enjoy competing as much because she gets nervous before races. Her best 5K time is 26:38. She prefers team sports.
“We’ve been teaching Amanda, you’re doing this because it makes you a better soccer player, it makes you a better basketball player,” Franklin said.
While the girls race a lot, Franklin limits how much they run to three times a week. He was a college decathlete who competed in the open division in track meets until age 30. He also coached track and field at several area school districts and as a private coach for more than a decade. His daughters often accompanied him to practices or track meets.
“They saw older girls who were exceptional athletes,” Franklin said. “We wanted them to be around young people who were motivated, who were disciplined, who were active.”
He wanted to teach his daughters a sport they could enjoy for the rest of their lives. Franklin and his wife Amy home school their children (their family includes 5-year-old Joshua and 3-year-old Jonathan), and running and bicycling are a big part of physical education for their children.
The girls started out biking for several years, to help them develop their leg muscles and their ability to focus, before Franklin let them run. They were introduced to running at 400-meter fun runs in Bloomington-Normal with their cousins.
Franklin wanted his daughters to build up their running slowly to avoid injuries or getting burned out, so he had them run no more than 1 to 1 1/2 miles at a time.
The girls’ main interest at first was exploring their neighborhood, parks and bike trails. But winning her age division at her first race motivated Jessica to run more, and her success motivated her sisters.
Franklin sets goals for the girls in their practice runs. But whether they race is up to them.
While they are improving their fitness, the lessons they learn from running, and the family time and camaraderie, are just as important. The family always has a prayer before they race, remembering to be thankful they are able to run.
Franklin said their practice runs, on a 1.6-mile loop through their neighborhood, are a time to talk. And he’s glad his daughters are making memories of running together, as he and his brother did growing up.
Younger brother Joshua is now riding his bike alongside his sisters.
“They are learning to encourage and talk to him and develop that type of kinship,” Franklin said.
Amanda said having her family at races helps her feel less nervous, and Alexa likes having them cheer her on. Jessica just likes knowing they are nearby.
“I’d probably be very scared and not do well if they weren’t there,” Jessica said. “It’s good to see the green shirts.”
Photos by Robin Scholz. Top, Jason Franklin with daughters Alexa, 9, Jessica, 12, and Amanda, 11, at their Mahomet home. Bottom: Jason Franklin and his daughters, Jessica, Alexa and Amanda, run in their Mahomet neighborhood.