- Associated Press - Saturday, July 19, 2014

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) - The lean 44-year-old Haitian runner settled into a brisk pace as he led the crew along the nearly deserted dirt trail.

No horns honking at them. Only birds chirping.

And no drivers hanging out the window to yell “You’re crazy!” in Creole, either - something Astrel Clovis encounters quite a bit when he’s dashing through the bustling streets back home in Port-au-Prince.

The five Haitian runners - three men, two women - recently spent a few days in Boulder, Colorado, working out with two-time U.S. Olympic distance runner Alan Culpepper. Sponsored by the relief organization of actor Sean Penn - you know, Jeff Spicoli, Harvey Milk - they’re training for another go-around at the New York City Marathon in November.

Only fitting that Penn is involved, too, because their story almost plays out like a Hollywood script.

One of the runners lost a relative in the earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010, that killed an estimated 300,000 people. Another had her family’s restaurant destroyed and another lost her house, forcing her to live in a tent set up in her yard.

But running has helped each of them cope. And through running, they’re hoping to inspire a younger generation in a country that has little running tradition.

“This group is showing that in Haiti, we have people that have a lot of big dreams and they’re working hard to achieve that dream,” said their coach Gerard Cassamajor, whose nation has had three Olympic marathoners.

The five runners receive help with shoes, travel and other necessities through Penn’s humanitarian group, J/P Haitian Relief Organization, which is working to bring sustainable programs to the country. This one is called, “The Long Run for Haiti.”

Almost sounds like a title to a film.

“Haiti is a country filled with countless people who have lived lives so compelling and inspiring that the creative options would be practically limitless,” Penn wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “I would love to see people inspired to tell their stories.”

On a scorching July day, the Haitians set out for an eight-mile jaunt with Culpepper, who wasn’t really sure what tips he could offer given the language barrier. Most of them spoke Creole.

“We soon found a universal language - running,” the 41-year-old Culpepper said.

About 40 minutes into the trek, 22-year-old Carline Lamour returned when the higher elevation of Boulder (around 5,430 feet) began to bother her. She struggled to catch her breath along the trail, even though she’s used to running around hilly, but sea-level, Port-au-Prince.

Not long after, the other runners arrived, with Clovis leading the way, followed by Petrus Cesarion, 28; Jean Macksony, 32, and Bertine Laine, 32.

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