Marathon Kids celebrated its 20th anniversary, and first national kickoff event, at the University of Texas at Austin on October 17. Two thousand kids waited their turn at running a lap around the track at Mike A. Myers Stadium to kick off their running journey.
Marathon Kids is a nonprofit organization that aims to help children live healthier and happier lives. Kids have the opportunity to run the equivalent of four marathons, which is 104.8 miles, over three, six, or nine months. Marathon Kids encourages running a little bit everyday, and participants receive encouragement from family or through school or neighborhood programs.
This year Marathon Kids partnered with Nike in hopes of expanding the movement nationwide.
“Nike was a company born from runners for runners, and to have an organization this devoted in unlocking the runner in every kid was really appealing to us,” said Caitlin Morris, Nike’s director in North America for community impact. “We believe if you have a body, you’re an athlete. You just have to believe that.”
Decathlete Trey Hardee joined the kickoff event, as he ran the first lap of the day with kids and was an identifiable hero for the day’s runners. Hardee, an Olympic silver medalist in 2012, is no stranger to what it takes to be an elite athlete, and he hopes the event encourages kids to get outside and play.
“This event can be a spark to a lot of the youth in America to be active and maybe try something they normally wouldn’t try,” said Hardee. “Just being outside and being active is a lot of fun.”
Once all the kids were in the bleachers, they were welcomed with a great deal of spirit by Longhorns cheerleaders and the UT dance team, as well as former Texas football player Martin Egwuagu, who gave a welcome speech.
After some dancing in the stands and a quick warm-up, it was time for the first lap or “flag lap,” which consisted of runners who were selected to start things off.
As kids finished their one lap around the track, Texas athletes from all sports greeted them at the finish line, making a tunnel for the participants to run through. The kids would then head to “reward alley,” where they were given water as well as other prizes and a chance to get pictures taken with family.
“Being able to run with other kids and see other kids like me run and have a set goal is very inspiring,” said 11-year-old Austin native Zane Hagler.
Dora Anne Cooper, a 10-year-old from Austin, shared similar feelings about getting to run and encouraging others to start running.
“It was inspiring and fun to exercise and have my family here to support me,” said Cooper. “I would say to kids to keep on practicing and stay in shape and never stop trying because you get better each time.”
A main goal of Marathon Kids is to inspire children to dream big. Hosting the kickoff at the University of Texas gave kids an opportunity to envision where running can take them. Chris Irvin was once a Marathon Kid, and now he’s a senior on the Texas Longhorns track team.
“I did Marathon Kids when I was in first or second grade,” said Irvin. “Keep doing whatever you can to stay healthy; you never know where it’ll take you.”
Nike and Marathon Kids put on this event to kick off a season of running. Throughout the school year, events will be held in other communities, and kids will continue to track their mileage as they run towards their goal of 104.8 miles.
“If you get kids excited about exercising and staying healthy, it really sets them up for a lifetime of just being a healthy person,” said Ashley Spencer, an Olympic hopeful and two-time NCAA 400-meter champion while at Texas. “We all get caught up with our cell phones and our video games, and that’s fun on rainy days, but anytime there’s good weather, just go outside!”