By: Jessica Garcia, Erin Spencer, Raisa Tillis
Austin, TX- Westside Elementary students pull on their coats as they meander out into the brisk winter weather on a Friday morning, each of them ready to take on their final laps of a 26.2 mile marathon.
For 19 years, Marathon Kids has been promoting healthy lifestyles to kids from across the United States. In Austin, there are currently 238 schools involved in the program. Marathon Kids and school districts work together in the hopes of encouraging student to think of healthy eating and exercise as a normal part of life rather than an irregular occurrence.
Last weekend, Marathon Kids representatives visited Westside Elementary to rally students to meet their weekly running goal, and mark their progress on their mileage completion sheets.
“In our flagship school based program the 26.2 mile challenge is being take on by 8,500 kids here in the Austin area alone. There are tons and tons of kids who are running more than one marathon and they’re doing it a quarter, a half, or a whole mile at a time,” said William Dyson, director of Grassroots Engagement.
Throughout the school year events are held to incentivize students to follow through with the program. On Tuesday, Austin area Whole Foods Markets partnered up with Marathon Kids by donating 5% of all net sales that day to the organization.
Marathon Kids participants, Ginny Barrett and her three children, Genevieve, Roman and Sabine came to Whole Foods to pick up the medals. Barrett says the best part of being engaged with Marathon Kids is the community involvement and that’s what keeps her family coming back.
“It’s a healthy practice and the kids love it. At the final mile the parents usually are running around the track with the kids and it’s just exciting, “ said Barrett.
According to MarathonKids.org, 31 percent of children in the U.S are overweight or obese. Today’s ten-year-olds are the first generation expected to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.
“Children of today are facing a completely different situation that even you and I were in,” said Dyson. “We were told to go outside and go and play and it wasn’t a big deal. We didn’t have iPads and iPhones taking away time to go outside and play.”
Just last school year there were 290,347 Marathon Kids participants within 842 elementary schools nationwide. A total of 7.6 million miles were completed.
Erica Gordon, national programs director, has been a part of Marathon Kids for nearly two years. She is responsible for managing projects and implementing new programs, which includes budgeting strategy and evaluation.
Gordon was able to attend the Westside Elementary school visit and she, along with other representatives, was there to encourage the kids as they completed their miles.
“The best part of being involved is really seeing kids and parents get empowered to live healthier and happier lifestyles when maybe before they weren’t so sure how to do it or didn’t have the resources available it’s really exciting to watch that,” said Gordon.