OREM — Sasha Pachev took up running because he was good at it.
He shares the sport with his children because he understands how it will enrich their lives.
On a recent Saturday morning, Sasha, 41, and his wife, Sarah, 39, ran the Salt Lake City Track Club’s Winter Series 5K with six of their nine children. They had individual goals as well as family goals.
But even more important than those goals, which centered around splits and finish times and the recognition that comes from those kinds of accomplishments, are the countless rewards that aren’t so easily quantified. The beauty of his plan is that even if his children never stand on the top of a podium, they still earn life-altering benefits from a sport that is difficult to embrace and even more difficult to master.
Pachev started running at age 11 because “I wasn’t good at anything else.”
Growing up in the former Soviet Union, he didn’t have the luxury of athletic opportunities affiliated with school. Still, there were a lot of sports from which to choose, and while he did try basketball and soccer, he just didn’t find his talent — or his passion. He did, however, notice at about age 11 that in his PE classes he excelled at one thing — distance running.
He was extremely attracted to the idea of endurance sports, so he gravitated to longer distances.
“Distance running was as competitive because it involved pain,” he said of how many young people avoided the discomfort associated with running. “But I could handle pain. I started getting better. I started showing competitive results. I just got in and I never got out.”
He joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Moscow in 1992. A branch president helped him find an opportunity to attend BYU. After serving a mission in Salt Lake City, he went back to BYU and met and married his wife, Sarah, who grew up in Texas. Interestingly, the two met when he was still in Russia when her father, who worked for Jon Huntsman Sr., was working in Russia. She needed a trigonometry tutor, and he was gifted in mathematics. Years later, the two met again when they were both at BYU.
“I jumped at the opportunity,” he laughed.
Life is full of tasks that require focus, concentration and commitment. People can be easily frustrated, and sadly, often deterred because of the tenacity required by certain endeavors.
“Running teaches children to focus and to not give up when things are hard,” he said. “We consider this a life skill for them. So we start them young. They develop the ability to endure.”
So from the time their children were little, Sasha Pachev was thinking of ways to help them channel their natural love to run and play into a sustained athletic effort like running a certain distance and even a competitive race.
“Both of us believe that running is very good for a child,” Pachev said. “It also develops the mind and the ability to focus.”
Their method begins with introducing them to running by holding their hands.
“As soon as they're out of diapers, we start taking them for about a quarter-mile run holding their hand,” Sasha said. “It teaches them rhythmic pacing.” Sure they complain. They might even resist.
But that’s what children do, Pachev points out, when they don’t want to do something — even things that are good for them like brushing their teeth, cleaning their rooms or finishing homework.
“If you believe what you’re asking them to do is important, you’re able to convince them,” Pachev said.
Sarah preferred swimming to running as a way to stay in shape. But now she sees running as a respite from the never-ending demands of motherhood. (The couple's children range in age from 4 1/2 months to 16.)
“Now running for me is a break,” she said. “I like to be by myself. I don’t run with the kids because I’m not fast enough. (Sasha) has to do the training.”
She runs, like her husband who hasn’t missed more than three days of consecutive running since age 11, through nearly everything.
“It just makes the rest of my life easier,” she said. “I think that’s why I’m able to have such a large family.” Running has brought her better health, given her easier pregnancies, and even helped her deal with tough days.
Benjamin, 16, ran the fastest 5K during Saturday’s cold, windy race, finishing in 16:13. That time was good enough for third place overall. Benjamin has already graduated high school and attends BYU. He’s majoring in mathematics and hopes to earn an invitation to the Olympic trials if he can run a fast enough half-marathon next month. He’d love to qualify for the 2016 Olympics in the half-marathon as he wants to serve an LDS mission after that.
He said his first half-marathon was a mixture of joy, pride and pain.
“It was painful,” he said. “The first 5 miles were fun. The rest of it was agonizing.” When asked why he’d even consider doing it again, he pauses.
“That’s a very good question,” he said. “Because you’ve done something good, something that actually means something.”
And he adds that even at 16, he feels the transformative power of racing.
“When you push yourself to your limit, you’re a different person,” he said.
While he loves training with his father, he said he racing alone. And at times, he helps his father with training runs for his youngest siblings.
“That’s interesting,” he said. “But in the races, running is kind of against yourself to improve your own times.”
Sasha, who recently found out he has spina bifida occulta in his L-4 vertebra, which is a deformity in the vertebra, certainly has his own goals when it comes to running and racing. He’s meticulous about logging times and training miles, as well as race results. Why certain times are achieved and what may have contributed to a disappointment or a success are just as important, and in fact, he chronicles most of it on his blog (fastrunningblog.com). A recent post not only breaks down the performance of each family member, but what their average time as a family was — 22 minutes and 13 seconds.
Pachev relishes the time he spends running with his family. He takes great pride in each milestone they achieve, whether the rest of the world notices or not. After all, great accomplishments usually only come after years of personal bests.
“I think that’s what it is all about,” Pachev said of running as a family. “I think we would have a much better community overall, and receive blessings in many ways, if families did whatever they were good at, and if they did it together, if that knowledge was shared.”
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