From Litchfield to the Nation, KiDSMARATHON is on the Move...Story by John Torsiello.
By, JOHN TORSIELLO
It’s pretty cool when a program launched in your town gets state and then national recognition.
That’s how those in the town of Litchfield that were involved it the start-up of the KiDSMARATHON program five years ago feel. The program became an instant hit in the Parlor Town and spread through the state like wildfire on a hot summer afternoon. Now, KiDSMARATHON Connecticut, a school-based fitness and nutrition program, has been chosen as one of 10 finalists for the Partnership for Healthier America’s Innovation Challenge to End Childhood Obesity. An online vote on Facebook is currently taking place in which the three programs that collect the most votes will receive a trip to Washington, D.C. to present ideas at a conference and to an expert judge panel. The overall winner will receive $10,000 in funding, as well as services from respected public relations and management consulting firms.
The program, with its focus on fitness and nutrition, was developed by New York City Marathon winner Rod Dixon and the Connecticut Association of Schools. KiDSMARATHON uses a holistic approach to a happy and healthy lifestyle for children under the mantra “finishing is winning, winning is finishing.” Interested schools can sign up through CAS for the program that uses the KiDSMARATHON Training Guide to help participating children ages seven to 12 engage in weekly fitness training, while accumulating a distance of 25 miles each. Each student trains at his or her own pace and enjoys the fitness experience with fellow students and engaging family members as well.
In the 2011-12 academic year, 35 elementary schools and 1,624 students took part in the program, and several track and cross-country teams became involved as mentor programs.
Said Litchfield running guru, coach and one of those instrumental in the genesis of the KiDSMARATHON program in Litchfield, Brent Hawkins, “We started it here in Litchfield and it's sweeping the state and hopefully soon the nation. It is a tried and true program to help kids get off to a healthy start, and a way of fighting one of the scourges of America, childhood obesity. This program is really making a difference.”
Offered Dixon, a regular at the Litchfield Hills Road Race who has many friends in the town and area, “I was invited to the Litchfield Road Race by my great friend Brent Hawkins to run and have fun. I suggested I could visit schools to tell them something of my running career and what kids in New Zealand, Australia and in Los Angeles were doing to get fit and eat healthy. I went to two local schools and challenged the students to run a marathon over eight to 10 weeks, and about 27 accepted the challenge.”
Dixon believes the most important aspect of KiDSMARATHON is that it is "in school," principals and teachers appreciate it and students are a willing audience. He said it is “natural” for every participant to set his or her own personal goals and then finish the final mile on road race weekend when parents, family members and friends are running the annual race. “That was the key, to have the kids finish running at the road race with a celebration set among the weekend with thousands of other runners. Every child in the program is a winner, there is no first, second, or third place, no time limit and it’s not a race.”
Dixon said, “The goal of KiDSMARATHON is to lay the foundation for a lifelong commitment to good health and fitness habits. We do this by educating kids about exercise and nutrition, empowering them to take their health into their own hands, and inspiring them with visits from running champions.”
He was thrilled that the program was being recognized as a powerful force against childhood obesity.
“The KiDSMARATHON program fits the criteria of this awards program. It is directly connecting kids with activity and nutrition education. Kids are moving and changing the way they feel about themselves and the schools see changes, Principals, teachers and parents see changes. School teachers and supervisors tell me that those in the KiDSMARATHON Run Club, on average, have higher test scores than those not in the program.”
He said 25,000 children in the Los Angeles Unified School District are in training for their final mile to be run on March 10.
“If every child in the KiDSMARATHON program in the U.S. could vote, and most do in a way, by signing a pledge to be a KiDSMARATHONER, and stay committed to the training for eight to 10 weeks, we would have more than 150,000 votes.”
Representatives from a child's school or youth organization assumes the role of coach/supervisor for the KiDSMARATHON program. Prior to the program kick-off, each representative is given a coach's manual with instructions on how to run a successful program. An outline for each day’s required activities, as well as a suggested informational clinic for each week, is included. These representatives communicate directly with the KiDSMARATHON staff, who ensure delivery of all training supplies, as well as coordination of school visits by KiDSMARATHON representatives. Dixon and other prominent runners visit training locations to provide motivation and inspiration.
Once the program begins, children meet three or four times a week for a group exercise session, led by a coach/supervisor. On an average day, children will participate in the following activities: warm-up, running or walking between one to two kilometers a day, running drills and games, a cool-down activity, and hear a short clinic on running or a health-related topic.
An essential part of the program is a training guide containing a wealth of information and motivation from Olympic medal winners, world record holders, and other leading specialists in the fields of diet and nutrition, physiology, and coaching.
The Connecticut Association of Schools, in partnership with Litchfield Hills Food Services, is sponsoring KiDSMARATHON events across the state of Connecticut. They will be held at Ludlowe High School (May 12), Cheshire High School (May 19), Norwich Free Academy (June 2), Danbury (June 2), and Litchfield (June 9).
Those interested in supporting the program can vote for KiDSMARATHON Connecticut on Facebook at on.fb.me/VjBk4Z. The voting will close on Feb. 1.