'They gave me a restart button': Jeff and Lissette Fields expand growing running family

Lorenzino Estrada
Northwest Florida Daily News

FORT WALTON BEACH — Lissette and Jeff Fields had a difficult decision to make.

After raising five children of their own, the newly-turned empty nesters were contemplating bringing on four more kids in 2017 with one promise: the opportunity to give them a new and better life.

At first it was one, then two, but it was evident to the couple that the children were a package deal. "In for a penny in for a pound," Jeff said.

"When I went up I realized how much they were each other's support system so I called Jeff and said, ‘Honey I don’t see how we can separate these four kids,’ " Lissette said. "They had gone through enough together."

The children — Nathan, 13; Joslyn, 11; Delilah, 10; and Mia, 9 — grew up in a difficult situation in Chicago while living with Lissette's sister.

Fields Family at Easter Mass.

The Fields would move the kids from the Windy City to Fort Walton Beach to give them the life they deserve.

"With our youngest at that time being 21, we didn’t have bunk beds or anything for the kids their age," Lissette said. They were just coming with a backpack. They were minimalists."

But a life change of this magnitude would come with a long learning process, especially for Nathan, who grew up being a father-like figure for his three younger sisters.

"He had quite the parent role," Lissette said. "Even as they would walk out of the bathroom he would instantly say, ‘Did you wash your hands?’ It didn’t matter what he was doing at the time because he was used to being the one that did that.”

For Lissette and Jeff, learning to parent four young children with multiple conditions such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and a speech impediment would require lots of patience.

But having two understanding parents who were willing to learn helped the children adjust in their lives. For Lissette, who grew up with a speech impediment, she knew what her children were dealing with.

Despite her speech disorder at a young age, Lissette would earn a Bachelor's in Deaf and Hard of Hearing, along with a Master's in Learning Disabilities. She also teaches sign language and speaks Spanish.

“I think that was part of the blessing of them coming to us is that I’m an educator," Lissette said. "That is the world I live in. When they first came we had some gaps to close as far as schooling. They missed school in their formative years. There’s been some catching up, but we were able to do it.”

Since moving to Fort Walton Beach, the children would find solace in their parents' passion: organized sports. All are in martial arts, but it's running that has connected the family unlike anything else.

“We’re a running family and everyone knows that," Jeff said. "They’re all No. 1 runners at their school. I sometimes think they’re kids from outer space because they are so good."

While the Fields have raised nine children, the number can actually be a lot larger due to their impact on Fort Walton Beach High track and field, along with the cross country teams they've coached for many years.

“We have thousands of track and cross country sons and daughters,” Jeff said. “We got blessed with this opportunity to touch lives. I’ve always told kids that we were put on this earth to do good for others.”

The children have been around the program for a while, and there is no doubt that they will one day run for the Vikings when they enter high school.

“They (student-athletes) know them and go to their meets, Jeff said. "They go cheer them on and are always there. When there is an open race they compete in them. Nothing frustrates the other team more than an 8-year-old going by you.”

Being around high school talent is also a great opportunity for the children to grow their craft, especially as the team welcomed them with open arms.

During a spring break practice, Nathan can be seen running and messing around with the track and field team. While many kids would spend their time off sleeping in, Nathan prefers to be running.

“I enjoy it so much," Nathan Jucha said. "Everybody supports me when I’m running. It’s a welcoming place where I don’t feel judged.”

That sentiment is also shared with members of the Vikings track and field team, who credit the Fields for creating a family environment without sacrificing a winning approach.

“She (Lissette) really emphasizes team and family," Troy Williams said. "With Commander — coach — Jeff Fields, he keeps it real and helps us develop our work ethic.”

Fort Walton Beach's Troy Williams clears a hurdle in the boys 100-meter hurdle event during Wednesday's 3A District 1 Track Meet hosted by Fort Walton Beach High School. Williams finished first in the event with a time of 15.50 seconds.

Both Lissette and Jeff strongly advocate the importance of being involved in sports, as it provides a way for many student-athletes to avoid trouble and difficult home lives.

“If you look at a picture of when we had our district championship, it’s the most beautiful picture," Lissette said. "So diverse, such a different grouping of kids and yet they formed a family together. They support each other through success and failure.”

At home or on the track, Lissette and Jeff Fields have fostered countless young lives, but none more than their young children.

Their impact on the Fort Walton Beach community is palpable.

"They gave me a restart button so I could make a new life," Nathan said. It’s really impacted me because I have so many more friends and meeting more people. They’ve given me a better life.”