BENNINGTON -- Two students from Shaftsbury Elementary School will travel to San Antonio, Texas, Thursday morning to compete in Saturday's Junior Olympics-level cross-country event.
Over the past few months, Sarah and Sam Umphlett have made their parents, coach, teachers, and fellow students prouder than usual as the brother-sister team competed and placed in a handful of Junior Olympics qualifying races throughout New England and neighboring New York State.
According to their mother Emily Umphlett, Sarah and Sam have been heavily involved in the Shaftsbury Striders after school running club since third grade and second grade, respectively.
The club, overseen by Shaftsbury Elementary Gym Teacher Howard Herrington, has been in existence for about 20 years and is free to all students.
The Umphletts' Junior Olympic journey began on Nov. 17 when Sam, 8, a third-grader, and his sister Sarah, 11, a sixth-grader, entered into the New England Junior Olympic trials competition, in which Sarah, ran a 3K race with 152 other girls aged 11-12 years, and finished 14th and Sam ran a 2K race with 80 other 7- to 8-year-old boys, and finished second.
Following their success in the trials competition, both siblings then qualified to compete in the regional championships which took place two weeks ago in Fishkill, N.Y.
Herrington accompanied the duo and watched from the sidelines as Sam placed seventh out of 87 runners in his age group, and Sarah placed 14th out of 176 in hers.
As the top 30 runners from each age group qualify to compete in on the national level, Umphlett said an immediate decision was made to take the entire family to San Antonio for the race, even though the cost was steep.
According to Umphlett, plane tickets alone cost $1,300. When other travel and accommodation expenses were taken into account, the family of four estimated a total cost of $3,000 for the trip.
To alleviate the family's travel expenses, a letter describing Sam and Sarah's accomplishments and plans for Texas was distributed to local businesses, organizations and throughout the school.
Umphlett said that to date, the community has raised a total of $1,000 for the family.
"We've gotten so many generous donations," she said. "It's been such a blessing that people in the community have come together to support our family."
Wednesday evening will mark the pair's last training session with Herrington before the race. If you ask him, Sam and Sarah have never been more ready to dominate.
"They've worked hard. This is the year that they deserve to go," Herrington said. "They've put the effort in and I expect great things from both of them. I think they're going to do awesome."
According to Herrington, the top 25 runners of this race will achieve All-American status.
"I think we're looking at two potential All-Americans," he said. "I really think it could happen. I'm excited to see what will happen."
Sam and Sarah say they are excited to race in Texas and are feeling confident that they will do well, but both admit they are a bit nervous to race against the best of the best.
Nonetheless, the siblings have a common goal of finishing in fourth place in their age group, as only the top four runners are "medaled" following the race.
"We want to bring home a medal," Sarah said.
Umphlett, obviously proud of her children, said she and her husband are excited to watch Sam and Sarah compete in such a prestigious event, but equally as pleased to watch their kids participate in a sport they are so passionate about.
"I always get nervous when my kids race but it's a good energy," she said. "I'm really proud when they cross the finish line."
The Umphletts will leave for Texas early Thursday morning but anyone wishing to make a last-minute donation to the family are welcome to do so by sending donations directly to: Shaftsbury Elementary School, 150 Buck Hill Road, Shaftsbury, VT 05262.
Contact Elizabeth A. Conkey at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @bethconkey.