The O’Polkas raised their four sons and three daughters to stand on their own two feet, but to remember that there were always 12 extra hands ready to catch them if they stumbled. As the O’Polkas watched their seven children cross the Market to Market finish line together, they smiled at the realization of a mission accomplished.

“As you get older, you each start your own little families, it gets harder to make time for each other. You call and text, but you don’t always make the time to hang out. We wanted to find an in-common goal that would get us all together, and this just clicked for us.”

As teens, through high school, and even into college, many of the siblings found themselves drawn into competitive ventures. As adults, they made the competition personal.

“It wasn’t about outdoing each other or beating other teams, but just finding a way to improve and do a little better than last year or last week, or even just your last run. Finding a way to pull a little more drive out of yourself and your team, just looking for ways to dig deeper.”

And in the process, middle kid Joel found himself learning a little more about the family he loves.

“It’s just so interesting to learn what drives and motivates people. You think you know what works for you and you think you know how to get the most out of your team, but then you’ll see something that causes a shift in them, or they’ll do or say something that causes a shift in you. And suddenly you’re all able to do a little more. And it’s not always what you’d expect.”

“I think my biggest takeaway from this year’s event was just how much a year can change a person. My younger sister was more into music, and wasn’t as into athletics as we were. We knew she would work hard, but the plan was to kind of take most of the miles between the rest of us. Then our brother came forward and asked if we could split some of his miles, as he wasn’t feeling as prepared as he had hoped. We were ready to and she stepped up and said no… let me have them. I want to do them. And then she rocked it! She was amazing… I was so proud of her.”

As the family grew, they each found their own places across Iowa to call home. But the night before Market to Market, they all found themselves back under one roof.

“My older sister lives pretty close to the starting point, so the night before we all congregated there. Our parents joined us and we all had a big dinner together, had a few drinks, and just hung out and talked. Because we are so close still, holidays aren’t some big formal meal where we all end up sitting together for hours on end. They tend to be more of an open house, so it’s not often that we’re all really together. And to look around and see everyone bunking up, sleeping on couches and floors, and just being all together again. It was a lot like when we were kids.”

And when race day came, it came with all of the sounds (and smells) of childhood.

“It’s pretty close quarters in that van, and everyone is sweaty and smelly and tired, and the first thing we said after the race was ‘So we’re doing this again next year, right?”

Jenn, Jason, Joel, Emma, Jake, Josiah, and Hannah will all find their own adventures over the next year. Their families will grow, they’ll laugh and they’ll cry. They’ll fight their own battles and cross their own finish lines, but they’ll never do it truly alone. And at next year’s Market to Market, after a rambling slumber party, The Original Seven will cross the finish line together.