Marathon Kids: A step in the right direction
AUSTIN, Texas -- Several thousand children participated in the annual Marathon Kids Kickoff Celebration, hosted by UT Athletics, basking in the sunny skies over Mike A. Myers Stadium and Soccer Field on Saturday morning. The Myers track was filled with grade-school children and their families, as youths ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade ran the Kickoff mile (four laps around the track) of the six-month Marathon Kids program, developed to promote physical fitness and health.
Texas women's track and field head coach Bev Kearney headed the UT Athletics volunteers. Kearney has been involved in the Marathon Kids program since its inception nine years ago. After a one-year hiatus due to Hurricane Rita, UT returned as the Kickoff host site for the seventh time in eight years.
“Today, we get the opportunity to celebrate and cheer for you as the champions of the track,” Kearney told the crowd after encouraging the participants to display the “Hook ’Em Horns” hand sign.
The kickoff celebration on Saturday provided participants with an opportunity to run, jog and walk the first mile of their six-month journey that will encompass the distance of a standard marathon (26.2 miles).
Hundreds of UT student-athletes were stationed along the track to offer their encouragement to runners of all ages. Some of the more ambitious student-athletes took to the track and helped set the pace. Children received autographs and posed for pictures with some of their favorite Longhorns after they completed their run.
“The student-athletes had a chance to get out here and use this opportunity to enrich themselves and the lives of others,” said UT assistant men’s tennis coach Ricardo Rubio. “They cheered on the kids as they ran the track and took the time to sign cards for the children. The kids were excited, but these guys – the players – were excited to be with them, which made this day all the more worthwhile.”
Over 40,000 schoolchildren in Central Texas currently are involved in the free Marathon Kids program; counting family members, over 20,000 were in attendance for Saturday's Kickoff mile at Myers Stadium.
Junior All-American Tiffany Jackson (Duncanville, Texas) from the women’s basketball team and NCAA shot put champion Michelle Carter (Ovilla, Texas) from the women’s track and field squad represented the UT student-athletes in the ceremonial opening lap.
“It’s a lot of fun to come out and support the children because they support us, come to all of our games and cheer us on,” Jackson said. “I’m just really proud that they are taking the opportunity to learn about good health and fitness.”
“It was a great event to be a part of since, as student-athletes, we promote health every day,” added Carter. “When they asked me to carry the flag, I jumped at the chance. I really enjoyed myself out there today.”
Select dignitaries who ran the ceremonial opening lap included Betsy Foster, Whole Foods Market; Paul Carrozza, President’s Council on Physical Fitness & Sports and Run Tex Inc.; Jeff Galloway, marathon training coach and former Olympian; Karen Banks, gardening director of Sustainable Food Center; Ross Moody, The Moody Foundation; Traci Neely, district-wide physical education coordinator, Round Rock Independent School District; Michelle Rusnak, district-wide physical education coordinator, Austin Independent School District; Dr. Adolpho Valdez, director of Austin Travis County Health and Human Services; and Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, commissioner of the Texas Department of Health Services.
Upon finishing their Kickoff mile, the children earned Marathon Kids water bottles as well as a Marathon Kids ID card, provided by Whole Foods Market. At the Final Mile Medal Celebration, the Marathon Kids will earn their “finisher medals.” Later in school assemblies, they will receive their Marathon Kids Finisher t-shirts.
Participants earn incentive rewards as they complete portions of their running and nutritious eating during the six-month Marathon Kids initiative. Whole Foods Market, the Moody Foundation, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the Meadows Foundation and The Topfer Family Foundation all fund the Marathon Kids event, making it free to all families.
For Longhorn newcomers to the Marathon Kids event, the morning's running made quite an impression.
“This was my first time at the event and so it was cool to see the reaction of the children when they interacted with the volunteers and the student-athletes,” said UT men’s track and field freshman Shawn Schmidt. “I wish I had this when I was a child. This was a good experience and a great way to get people involved.
“It’s really exciting to be here at the Marathon Kids event for the first time, and it’s a lot bigger than I expected,” said first-year UT women’s swimming and diving head coach Kim Brackin. “It’s great to see the support from the UT student-athletes and the campus in general, and it’s awesome to see all of these smiling faces on kids from kindergarten to fifth grade. They’re getting out and exercising, and that’s just amazing! I can’t wait until I can get my son, Travis, into this event!”
For others, like UT baseball senior Randy Boone (Yoakum, Texas), a veteran of community-oriented events on the UT campus, the Marathon Kids event served as another opportunity to give back to those who give so much to The University.
“It was great to be out there today to support a good cause,” Boone said. “It was fun to see the children out here running around and having a good time. They would run half a lap, get tired and then get some energy when they ran by us. It was awesome!”
In addition to UT Athletics volunteers and the Longhorn student-athletes, other volunteers at Saturday's event included members of the UT's Kinesiology and Health Department, Central Texas physical education teachers, Whole Foods Market team members, members of AAPER (Association of Physical Education & Recreation and representatives from the Austin Police Department fitness team joined in to help the children at their Kickoff Celebration.
Marathon Kids is a 10-year-old non-profit organization. Born in Austin as a grassroots initiative, the Marathon Kids program has nearly 137,000 children program. In addition to the 40,000 children participating in Austin, the program has branched out to Dallas (30,000), Houston (11,000), the Rio Grande Valley and Los Angeles. Nearly 300 communities, as well as 14 nations, are on the waiting list to join the program.