Already in the running, at age 3


Kyneshi Jeter, 3, still turns the heads of fellow joggers at Montebello Park, even though they've seen her run 10 miles without stopping every other day for the past month.

"That girl is going to the Olympics," states a woman dressed in a blue jogging suit. "I've never seen anything like it."

The Montebello regulars have dubbed her "Baby Flo-Jo" after the late Olympic champion Florence Griffith Joyner. There are those who have watched her every other day for the past month run as though she is training for the Olympics.

The comments range from comparisons to the Energizer Bunny to inquiries on world records.

"You know, the Olympics may be here in Baltimore [in 2012]," said another woman to Kyneshi's parents, Anthony and Kieonte Jeter. "You better have her ready."

Then, almost on cue, a man jogging 10 yards behind the woman injects a follow-up comment.

"She will be."

Kyneshi prefers to ignore the attention. Instead, she does something rare for a 3-year-old - she concentrates on one task for close to three hours.

That workload would be steep for a veteran athlete. What that does to a 3-year-old body, according to Maryland professor of kineseology Jane Clark, is probably not harmful physically. But the emotional effects could be worrisome.

"Kids can play for long periods of time," Clark said. "The bones respond positively to physical activity.

"On one level, [the running] is great. But it's not developmentally appropriate. The father should be applauded for having his daughter physically active. But a 3-year-old should have a variety of things to do."

Marilyn Bevans, former coach of the Baltimore Suns youth running group, said participating in many different activities is the most important aspect of childhood development.

She said she has come across many cases where children start out in one sport too young and become washed up around high school or college.

"With little kids, you hear about them breaking world records when they are 6 or 8 years old," Bevans said. "But then you don't hear about them at 14.

"Ten miles can be rigorous for anybody. You just don't know what it will do to the kid's bone development."

But the Jeters are confident that they are raising their daughter properly. Kieonte Jeter said she ran long distances - about five miles - several times a week as a 5-year-old growing up with her father on an Army base.

"If this wasn't healthy, you can best believe she wouldn't be doing it," Kieonte Jeter said.

The Jeters say they have had two doctors examine their daughter, and Anthony Jeter said both doctors told him she is naturally talented and the long-distance running is not having an adverse effect.

Anthony Jeter said many parents start their children out in sports, especially tennis and golf, at a young age. He said that the wear jogging has on Kyneshi's body is less than other children have in those sports.

"Look at those Williams girls," Anthony Jeter said, referring to tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams. "Their dad had those two out there at a young age.

"We knew we would have people criticizing us. But we had two doctors check her out - one came out to the track after she just got done running. And they both said she is just a natural. The doctors told me as long as she's eating right and she stretches before she runs, she'll be fine.

"I understand people are just looking out for the kid's welfare. But if she can run like that, she can run like that. People can say what they want, but as long as the doctors back you, their words mean nothing."

Kieonte Jeter said her daughter does like to participate in other sports, like gymnastics. But she said nothing compares to running for hours. That, more than the actual distance, may be the most remarkable feat. "You can't keep kids, especially ones that young, concentrating on something for minutes, let alone hours," said Clark, the kineseology professor.

Anthony Jeter said his daughter likes to watch old tapes of Flo-Jo's 1988 Olympic triumphs in the 100 and 200 meters, and has begun mimicking Griffith-Joyner, who died in 1998 of an epileptic seizure.

When she runs, Kyneshi's head is up and her arms swing back and forth opposite her legs in perfect form. Kyneshi keeps this form throughout the run, only breaking it for an occasional sip of water.

Even then, her legs do not stop moving. Kyneshi's father runs up beside her, hands her a 12-ounce bottle of water then watches as she clutches with both hands while continuing at the same pace before dropping the bottle so as not to break stride.

"I just wonder what she is thinking about while she is running," Anthony Jeter said.

The athletic gift runs in the family. Anthony Jeter, who says he is in the entertainment field and has worked with such artists as Baltimore R&B; group Dru Hill in the past, ran track while in the Army, as did his wife.

Anthony Jeter has put on weight the past few years and was urged to run in order to stay in shape and lose about 40 of his 300 pounds. He decided to make it a family thing, having Kieonte and Kyneshi join him. He said Kyneshi would watch the other runners in the park and imitate them.

He said he would become tired after a few miles but noticed his daughter was not.

"Then I just said, 'Let's see how far she can go one day,' " Anthony Jeter said. "And she just kept running.

"We have to stop her. I'm not sure how far she could run if we didn't stop her. Twenty miles, I don't know? What happens is that we get tired. We can only go so far. But when I ask her if she is tired, she'll say no. But we can't go any farther."

Judging by Kyneshi's reaction after her 10-mile run, Jeter may be right. Her New York Yankees T-shirt is drenched in sweat but she says she is not tired and her actions would back it up. She continues to stand and is not breathing heavily. She runs three to four times a week, and a couple of weeks ago she ran 19 miles.

"Stopping her from running is the only way we can discipline her," Anthony Jeter said. "If we take away the television or something like that, that doesn't do anything. But if we tell her she can't run, she'll throw a temper tantrum."

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