It’s a Monday night in August. Tweens and teens are flocking to the field of RAF Lakenheath dressed from head to toe in red, yellow, green, or blue. Parents are screaming and cheering with painted faces and tutus. The RACE is on.
It’s not an acronym. “The RACE is in caps because it’s supposed to be intense,” says Beth Landrum, a missionary to military teens at RAF Lakenheath. A 4-week connection event created by fellow missionary, Dale Mace, this program has been at the base in England for the last 14 years, though Dale originally started it 10 years prior at a civilian church in Florida. He wanted to create something that would draw people in. It has reached thousands of kids and families over its lifespan.
WEEK 1: No One Runs Alone
This week emphasizes the importance of bringing in new participants. Every participant plays at once, so larger teams have the advantage. At the beginning of the competition, all returning students are divided equally into four teams. New participants are the only ones allowed to choose their team, so you can only grow your team by reaching out to people that are new to the event or community. “That’s the real key to the success of the program,” says Beth, “It incentivizes students to do what we should all be doing.”
WEEK 2: Endurance
In this week, all games focus on winning by outlasting everyone. 4-Way-Grinder is a fan favorite where students climb into an inner tube and hang on for dear life in a 4 way tug of war. All too often in military life, we have to keep going when things get hard. This event aims to build life experiences around truth. When things are tough and you feel like giving up, you can remember the time that you did hold on.
WEEK 3: Family Matters
This week is parent’s night when the infamous parents dodgeball match goes down. “There are not a lot of times where our military members get to be their student’s parent first,” says Beth. By giving students the chance to cheer for their parents, instead of being embarrassed by them, “it celebrates what parents contribute just by showing up.” They make sure to recognize students with a deployed or TDY parent by still awarding points on the parents’ behalf.
WEEK 4: Finishing Well
As the events wraps up and the school year starts, the final night focuses on finishing well, not finishing first. Students are encouraged to take what they learned and carry it forward to invest in others and not keep it for themselves. “Finishing well means finishing together,” says Beth, “Without each other there’s no chance to succeed.” When comparing RACE participants to the DODDS school enrollment, 25-30% of middle school and 20-25% of high school students are consistently engaged before the start of the school year. In overseas locations where a lot of families PCS over the summer, this is critical in establishing initial connections within the community.
The values emphasized during the RACE are vital to our military community. You don’t have to be stationed at RAFL to reach out to new people at your base. In a community that is moving every two to four years, we should always be looking for ways to reach out. We should be finding ways to encourage enduring the hardships this lifestyle entails with healthy behavior. We should be emphasizing the importance of every family member involvement. We should be focusing on finishing well, grieving well when we must move on, and taking all that we’ve learned and pass it on to others as we go.
The last night of the RACE in August ’22 was the last iteration of the event at RAFL as both Dale and Beth are moving on to new adventures in the coming year. Though the event will not exist in the same way, the people whose lives were changed will carry its heart forward as they move throughout the military community.