When the Paul sisters — Ali, Marina, Chloe and Lily — get together with their father Les, running is always on the agenda.
Over the past 10 years, Les Paul coached his four daughters in cross country and track at Cedar Grove-Belgium High School. He’s a passionate coach who expects each member of the team to work hard and runs with them during practices.
He even built a challenging cross-country course on the family’s 60-acre farm on Hilly Lane in the Town of Belgium that is used for team practices and meets. Because the course is so tough, the coach said, it gives the team a competitive edge.
The era of Paul girls helping lead the girls’ cross-country team to state competition in eight of the 10 years ended this fall when Lily, a senior, ran her last meet in Sparta.
Some say Paul pushes his daughters too hard, but he and they deny that.
All four are strong women who said there is no way their father could get them to run if they didn’t want to.
“I held them to a higher standard than anybody else,” their father said. “There was nobody on our team who worked harder than the Paul chicks. They’re all good athletes.
“But it was also about the other kids and lifting them to a high level of expectation.”
Chloe said her father set high standards not only for them, but also for himself and the rest of the team.
“He pushed us to be the best that we could be,” she said. “My dad treated every kid on the team like he was their dad. I think he raised the standard for the other kids as well. He wanted the best for all of them.”
Running created a second family and opened many doors, the girls said. Their mother Mary was beside them all the way and often fed the team.
Ali, 24, was an All-American athlete when she ran at Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minn. She transferred to Iowa State University to compete at the Division 1 level, but an injury hampered her dreams. Now, she wants to qualify for the Olympic trials in the marathon.
“I like to push myself,” said Ali, who earned a degree in civil engineering and works for the Milwaukee public works department. She is married and the mother of 3-month-old Sage.
Marina, 22, a senior marketing and Spanish student at Minnesota State, has cross-country and track scholarships. She has one season of eligibility left in track.
Chloe, 19, is a sophomore music major at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and wants to be a vocal music teacher. Running helps relieve stress and keeps her focused, she said.
Lily, 17, plans to major in engineering and may join her sister at Minnesota State, but is considering other colleges.
To mark her graduation, Lily and Marina want to tackle an Ironman triathlon with their father. They’re training for the Sept. 13 Wisconsin Ironman in Madison.
The Paul family has always been competitive, racing each other to the car, house or barn.
Les Paul was a wrestler in college and has done marathons, triathlons and Ironmans for years. Mary does triathlons and is a competitive bicyclist.
Ali got the family into cross-country running when she was in middle school. She wanted to participate in a sport, but soccer and basketball didn’t appeal to her so it became running, something she’s done with her father for as long as she can remember.
“She was a four-time state qualifier and two-time state champion in high school, which is really an achievement when you don’t have a team behind you,” Paul said. “She lifted the sport to a new level at the school.”
Ali said, “I think I had it the easiest in high school. I didn’t think of my dad as a coach. He was just starting to coach. I just thought of him as an over-enthusiastic father.”
When Ali excelled in the sport, her sisters wanted to tie on their running shoes.
“My parents didn’t say I had to do it. I just wanted to do it and be like Ali,” Chloe said. “I loved being on the cross-country team. It made me what I am today.”
Marina said running requires mental toughness.
“I think it’s the most mental sport. Your mental attitude can make or break you,” she said.
“But if I had to describe it in one word, it would be ‘discovery.’ I always feel I’m discovering something new — whether it’s about myself, someone else or a new trail. You can get to know somebody really well when you have nothing to do but talk on a 10-mile run.”
Lily said her word would be “life.”
“I wake up and my first thought is, ‘I should go for a run,’” she said. “I’m always going to go for a run in the morning. It keeps you healthy and sane.”
Ali and her husband Joel Merritt, who was also a member of the Cedar Grove-Belgium cross-country and track teams, push their daughter in a jogging stroller when they run together. Ali ran a short distance the morning her daughter was born.
The girls not only share their father’s passion for running, but also for hunting.
Paul was an archery 4-H leader and his daughters are proficient with bows and arrows as well as shotguns. They and their father prefer hunting with bows.
“They’re my hunting partners,” Paul said.
When everyone was home over Thanksgiving weekend, running and hunting were on their minds.
Image information: The Paul family (from left) Lily, 17, Marina, 22, father-coach Les, Ali, 22, and Chloe, 19, ran on the snow-covered course at their 60-acre Town of Belgium farm. Photo by Sam Arendt