FORT BRAGG, N.C., -- Anyone who lives on or has business with an Army installation is familiar with this early-morning scene. It's around 6:30 a.m., maybe earlier in some places, you're trying to make your way across post and everywhere you go there are Soldiers on the streets calling cadences, keeping up, catching up, falling out, and sometimes, making the most memorable grimaces as they push through the pain and strain of a hard morning's run.

Unlike Soldiers, Lauren Stephenson and her younger sister, Kristen, are not subject to the Army's physical fitness regulations as laid out in Field Manual 21-20. So why do Lauren, 17, and Kristen, 14, take part in a regimen that's every bit as rigorous'

They run because they enjoy it.

"'You guys run for fun'

That's really weird,'" Kristen said, quoting a high school friend.

As daughters of Col. Brian P. Stephenson, XVIII Airborne Corps rear detachment operations officer, and his wife Vicki, the girls have running in their cross-country in high school and college, a path both Lauren and Kristen say could be a possibility for them.

Lauren first started running when she was in the seventh grade after hearing that her school, Village Christian Academy, was starting a new cross-country program. Her interest in soccer and her father's history with cross-country inspired her to give it a shot, she said.

Two years later, Kristen decided to try her hand at it as well. As Lauren was inspired by her father, Kristen was inspired by her older sister.

"I pretty much did it because Lauren's like my role model," Kristen said.

In cross-country, the girls found something that was not only fun, but someA,A!thing blood. Stephenson ran they excelled at. At last year's Cape Fear Independent Conference, Lauren placed second and Kristen placed fourth. The conference was made up of six competing high-schools. They participated in the North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association's 2008 cross-country meet and placed in the top 10.

Lauren and Kristen placed seventh and eighth, respectively.

The Stephenson girls run five-kilometer races over varied open terrain, averaging around 20-minute completion times. This makes their pace around six minutes and thirty seconds per mile, a pace they can sustain for more than three miles.

On the Army Physical Fitness Test, a Soldier running at that pace would score the maximum number of points on his or her two-mile run event, even at the most demanding age group.

"They certainly have the genetics of good runners, but it's their mental strength that will make them great runners," said Donna McCollum, running coach and former Olympic swimmer.

McCollum has known the girls as runners for four years and even picked them to run in her elite running team, Team Decker, which competes at state, regional and national levels.

The girls were chosen initially for their incredible run times in the five-kilo-meter cross-country run, said McCollum. Now, she says, it's their hard work and passion that keeps them elite athletes in Team Decker.

"Lauren has the experience and training now and that makes her run smart.

She knows that it's not just running five kilometers and being done with it. She knows there's strategy," said McCollum. "And Kristen, who doesn't have as many years running, is passionate, hard-working and naturally talented."

The girls say the health benefits of their sport are secondary to the thrill of accomplishment and feelA,A!ing of exclusivity.

"It's something that really nobody in our school can do," Lauren said.

"You also get caught up in the competition. You get photos by Pfc. Victor J. Ayala/49th PAD good at running and then someone beats you, so you have to get better and beat them," Kristen said.

This competitive and self-motivated nature not only serves them on the field but also in the classroom and in the community.

Lauren, Kristen and their little sister Jennifer are all straight-A students who participate actively in church and local charities.

Looking to the future, Lauren and Kristen said they are unsure how far they want to take their sport.

"I don't know about doing this professionally," Lauren said.

"But maybe to help with college," Kristen added.

With or without running, they approach all things competitively and with self-motivation. Whatever the future holds for them is certain to be bright and, most importantly, of their own making.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16