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Running into Leadership

Published on August 31, 2023

Allison Gibeson

Eli Larson has fond memories of numerous high school cross country meets that he will always carry with him and the leadership skills he developed as part of his high school’s FCA Huddle.

After running track in middle school, Larson joined the Center Point-Urbana High School cross country team his freshman year on a whim and found success running the longer distance.

He stuck with the sport, running each year of high school and making state three times.

“I found a talent I didn’t know I had,” Larson said. “I had some great teammates that were able to push me, and I just improved. Running developed into something I love.”

A multi-sport athlete who also played basketball and ran track in high school, Larson said his niche became the endurance running of crossLvgvIoXw country.

“It just frees my mind to run the longer distance,” he said.

As an athlete, Larson got involved in FCA and says it brought him closer to other students as he helped them grow in their faith while leading Bible studies. It was a step of maturity for the runner who grew up in church and first accepted Christ in middle school.

“I want to help others, so when I was in that leadership spot, I embraced it,” Larson said. “It was very important to me and more important to others to have someone they could learn from and help them become good leaders in the future.”

Larson’s involvement in FCA was perhaps unsurprising considering his mom, Beth Larson, is an English teacher at the high school who helps lead the Huddle. Not only that, but Eli’s older brother, Abe, was also involved in the Huddle during his high school years, and his younger brother Isaac is currently involved in the ministry.

While Mrs. Larson is not a coach, FCA leaders in the area noticed her passion for students and asked her to help coordinate the ministry at the school.

“I know a lot of the kids on a personal basis outside of teaching because they have been friends with my own children, and I know a lot of their parents that way,” she said. “I feel like it’s a neat bridge between being a teaching mentor and a second parent mentor to some of them.”

Mrs. Larson said her son Eli is a naturally introverted person who blossomed in his last couple years of high school as he grew in leadership.

HYhoeMgA“[FCA] has given my kids an opportunity to take their faith outside our church and use it to show the school population that it’s okay to be Christian, and they can be a shining light on their team,” she said.

Amy Neighbor, a member of the Board of Directors for Eastern Iowa FCA, sees the Larsons’ impact on the school.

“The kids know they can talk to Beth about anything–school, sports or personal. She is an amazing teacher who truly cares for her students. She has the most infectious laugh that brightens everyone's day. Beth goes above and beyond for her students who, in return, respect her in and out of the classroom. She goes the extra mile with our Huddle, she always has a game plan and does an amazing job with our leaders to come alongside them to make our FCA Huddle have an impact for Jesus.”

Larson is now in college, and last year he completed his first season running for Wartburg College in Wavery, Iowa, where he is majoring in engineering.

He continues to be involved in a Bible study, and older friends have shown him how to continue in his faith while on a college campus.

“Eli is a fierce competitor who is so humble,” Neighbor said. “He gets in a zone and is focused throughout his races. When Eli finishes a race, he always congratulates those around him and looks for his next teammate. As an FCA Leader, he is well respected. He is very involved in our Huddles and is looked up to by the younger kids.”

From high school to college, a few things have remained consistent for Larson: running and FCA.

Beth Larson, an FCA leader and teacher at Center Point-Urbana High School, requests prayer for the school to continue to show them favor in allowing the ministry to meet on campus. She also invites others to pray that more of the students who attend their outreach events would also come to their Bible studies and regular Huddle meetings.

Amy Neighbor, a member of the Eastern Iowa FCA Board of Directors, requests prayer that God would keep raising up student leaders and coaches to strengthen the ministry in the area.

Want to get involved? Support Eastern Iowa FCA.
Photos courtesy of Todd Hunt/Linn News, Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette, Wartburg College and the Larson family.