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Large Crystal River family goes distance to keep in touch

At some Citrus County races, an observer might see a middle-aged man running with his 11-year-old daughter.

Besides being the portrait of a close bunch, these two are part of a family of 10 that loves the sport.

This is a running family like no other.

It is the Ard clan of Crystal River. Chuck, 46, is the father, and Penne, 43, is the mother. Chuck works as an instrument technician at Crystal River Nuclear Power Plant. Penne stays in the house and home schools the children still at home.

They get together to run, though, and some of them have handled some major competitions.

The oldest, Brandon, 23, is in Kings Bay, Ga., and has a daughter. He has done a marathon.

Nicole, called Nike, is 18 and the Citrus Road Runners' secretary. The future arts school student ran a half marathon at Disney. Yes, Nike was nicknamed after the shoe company.

Vince, 16, runs 5K (3.1 miles) races. Mark, 14, has done 5 and 10Ks. Fawn, 11, Keith, 9, Bridget, 6, Heather, 4, and Cheryl, 1, have run some competitions.

Mom is big on getting the family out on the trails.

"It is a great family activity," Penne said. "I was an aerobics instructor, and Chuck introduced me to running."

The Ard patriarch started running as a teen. He ran high school track in Jackson, Miss.

"We lost our track coach when I was in 10th grade," Chuck Ard said. "He left, and they didn't replace him. We had four or five guys who got together and ran meets."

Ard said his interest increased while in the Navy.

"A friend of my dad's talked me into running my first 10K at the Winter Park Road Race in Orlando in 1980," Ard said. "From then on, I was hooked."

Ard has been in 15 marathons, including one 31-mile "ultramarathon."

For him, the marathon is all the race he wants.

"I don't really like the longer ones," Ard said. "The marathon is right."

Pounding the pavement satisfies the "inner jock" in Ard.

"I like sports," he said. "Running is the only thing I was really good at it. I want to run the rest of my life."

Ard wants to go the distance in age, and running will help him stay healthy.

"I read there are 90-year-olds who have done marathons," Ard said. "One of my goals is to be able to run a marathon when I am 100."

He has had some impressive finishes.

"I was second place at the Space Coast Marathon in 2003 out of 300, and I was third this year. This was at Cocoa."

Ard said he finished seventh among 1,000 runners at the Kona Marathon in Hawaii.

His kids love running, but most of them don't have dad's competitive fire, Ard said.

"Nike ran a half marathon last year," he said. "They are not the competitive types like I am.

"I like the fact that they are able to approach it at any level they want. They can get into it, and you meet a lot of nice people," Ard said.

He likes the folks he meets at races _ doctors, lawyers, teachers, coaches and others.

"I don't think I have ever met any bad people at a runners events," Ard said. "They (races and club events) are really good for the kids."

The Ard family is involved with the Citrus Road Runners, and Ard feels a need to contribute.

"I am at the age where I feel I have taken a lot from running," he said. "I feel like I need to give back to the running community. I volunteer to man a water station."

He has sampled various clubs and likes what he finds with the Road Runners. "I have been a member of several," Ard said. "Citrus is smaller and seems to be more of a close knit group."

There are people who might think the Ards are isolating their children by home-schooling them. Ard insists his kids are exposed to more social activity than students in public schools.

"We go out and find different groups to be part of," he said. "Kids that are home schooled are more social than those who are cooped up in a classroom.

"Nike is a volunteer. We get involved in Civil War reenactments."

Ard is hooked on the "marathon feeling."

"After a marathon, there's a flood of a emotions," he said. "Your body starts to shut down.

"I have cried the last two or three miles of a marathon. Every time I finish, I amaze myself. I am amazed at what I can accomplish. At the end, you are so physically spent. Your body is running on fumes."

Fortunately for Ard, he can put some fluids and food in him and he is doing well.

"You recover fairly quickly," he said. "I eat anything that is available.

"At the end of my first marathon in Washington, D.C, they had sugar cookies and they tasted like the best filet mignon," he said.

His wife thinks running and home-schooling work out well for the family.

"With home-schooling, you feel like you are getting away with something," Penne said.

"You are enjoying your life and the kids are enjoying theirs. They love learning. You give them some freedom and they will take the ball and run with it."

The kids are sprinting with it.

"They grew up with racing," Penne said. "Our first daughter, Nike, was three weeks old when we took her to her first race. It was the Azalea Trail in Mobile, Ala."

Penne had to be converted to the sport but is sold on it now.

"I think running is an integral component of our family," she said. "We were close, and it brings us even closer. It is a wonderful thing that we can do.

"They (the children) are friends with everybody in the (Citrus Road Runners) club," Penne said. "They have friends of all ages. They all love to run."

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