Leader of the pack: Cross-country team runs with shelter dogs and everyone wins

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Their alarm goes off around 6am over their summer break. The Steinbrenner High School cross-country team rolls out of bed, puts on their running shoes, and heads to the Humane Society of Tampa Bay.

“We show up at the Humane Society every day in the summer, Monday through Friday, at like 6:45 am. We grab a few dogs, usually about 4 or 5 and take them here to the park. We run with them for a little bit and take them back,” said Zach Harrigan, Captain of Steinbrenner cross-country.

He says it’s a great way to bond with his teammates when they all get together in these early morning hours. A time many other high school students are sleeping in.

For four years, the team’s summer training has included these four-legged members. It all started when one of the member’s mom heard about a cross-country team running with shelter dogs and pitched it to the Steinbrenner coach.

Harrigan says the coach and the team jumped at the opportunity. “We’re all dog people,” he explained.

It’s an opportunity for shelter dogs to get out of the facility, stretch their legs and get some much-needed interaction with people.

“There’s been a few dogs that have walked me instead of me walking them,” said Harrigan. “I like the relaxed dogs. I’m more of an easy person in the morning. We’ve had tons of different dogs. We have small dogs that really go out hard and then we get the big dogs, recalled Harrigan.

The mutual benefit for the team and the dogs goes one step further for Harrigan. “I adopted a lab, little white lab mix back in December. He’s a few months old now. Crazy puppy, but he’s cute. His name is Captain,” exclaimed Harrigan. An appropriate name for the captain of a team that runs with these pups.

Zach Harrigan and his rescue dog, Captain

The Steinbrenner team has a yearly goal of running the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic 15K (9.3 miles) in less than an hour. That means they have to run each mile at approximately 6 minutes and 25 seconds. At that speed, they are definitely the leader of the pack.

If you’re interested in running the virtual version of this year’s Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic, you can choose your distance: 5K, 8K, 15K or half marathon. Then, choose your location to run and time yourself. Submit those times to get your medal. Don’t forget that Bayshore Blvd will be shut down to vehicle traffic on May 8th and 9th, so registered participants can run on the roadway with your bib.

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