Middle school is a time when many fathers and sons start to go their separate ways. The Little League games are over, teens start losing enthusiasm for parent outings and the connections begin to fray.
How to stay close? Run every street in Palo Alto
But Palo Alto parent and JLS teacher Kevin Lynch wasn’t willing to give up when his son Osy (Osmanthus) was in 6th grade.
“We had always been close and I wanted something that we could do together in middle school,” Kevin remembers. So he proposed an idea to Osy on the first day of 6th grade: Why don’t we run every street in Palo Alto before you leave JLS?
A crazy idea launches three years of father-son runs
Many kids would have answered, “Wait, what?” But Osy was wise and said yes, assuming that his Dad’s crazy idea would never go anywhere, especially because neither he or Kevin were particularly avid runners. Little did he know that Kevin’s offhand notion would turn into a pursuit that would last all three years of middle school, ending on literally Osy’s last day at JLS.
By the numbers: What did three years of running in Palo Alto add up to?
- Number of runs: 120
- Total distance: 230 miles,
- Frequency of runs: 2-3 times a week, but towards the end, they had to run every day to finish.
- Geography: from sea level Baylands all the way up to Palo Alto Hills.
Google maps + old fashioned navigation
At the beginning, Kevin turned to friends who worked at Google, hoping there was some app he and Osy could use to best track their runs and progress. But no good tech solution existed, so the father-son pair used a running app (Runkeeper), along with paper maps and other tools to manage the process. As a result, they took a refreshingly un-engineered approach.
“We just went from neighborhood to neighborhood, running for about 30 minutes at a time,” Kevin recalls. “The circle streets near JLS were brutal and we almost gave up trying to cover all of them, but we didn’t ever get lost.”
A unique time for connection
The runs allowed Osy and Kevin to connect and talk, especially when teen emotions were making life at home difficult. “Even when we were mad at each other, Osy would still run with me,” Kevin said. “We would let go of whatever was bothering us and just run.”
“During the runs we would pursue a whole bunch of weird conversation topics,” Osy remembers. “We spent a long time debating the merits of different medieval siege weapons, which was oddly fun.”
A love of running that will carry into high school
To respect Osy’s privacy at home and school, Kevin didn’t talk about the running project much and only occasionally posted milestones on Facebook to mark their progress. Towards the end, as the many competing demands of eighth grade piled on, they ran in the dark to get through the final streets.
Osy discovered a genuine love for the sport over the years he ran with his Dad and plans to do track as a freshman at Palo Alto High School.
Ending at the Downtown Farmer’s Market…appropriate for the Mulberry Guy
Kevin and Osy’s last run in June ended at the Palo Alto Downtown Farmer’s Market, a place where their family is famous for selling mulberries.
In fact, many people know Kevin as “The Mulberry Guy” due to the eight years he has been selling the mulberries grown in his Palo Alto backyard, along with his wife Monica (a teacher at Ohlone Elementary), Osy and their other son Halo.
“When we moved to Palo Alto, we planted mulberry trees and just came to love their unique flavor,” Kevin said. “We created the business so our family would have a small enterprise together.”
Advice for prospective runners? Just do it
“If I were to give any other kids advice about whether to do a running project like this, I’d say to keep yourself entertained and be enthusiastic – it will make it much more fun,” said Osy. However, with a bit of teen irony he added, “It makes a great story to tell people, but I’m not sure I’d do it again.”
As for Kevin, he sees nothing but upside from the experience. “Running together gave us purpose and continuity through middle school,” he said. “I am having post-project withdrawal and miss the scheduled father-son time we had during our runs.”
For more information about the Mulberry Guy…
The Mulberry Guy berries are a hot commodity for restaurants such as award-winning Chez TJ and the Rosewood Hotel, as well as some of the region’s top bakeries including Craftsman and Wolves in San Francisco.
You can visit Kevin and his family at the Downtown Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning all summer, or check out The Mulberry Guy Etsy page for info about how to order mulberry tea, jam and more. Or read more about Kevin’s mulberry business in Sunset Magazine.
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