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AUSTIN, Texas – Marathon Kids, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, announced today the addition of former Olympian Sanya Richards-Ross to the board of directors.

As a standout freshman track and field athlete at the University of Texas in 2003, Richards-Ross won the NCAA national championship in the 400 meter race; in 2004, she turned pro. Now an entrepreneur, author, TV sports analyst, speaker, mother, and media personality, Richards-Ross also runs sports clinics for kids and is committed to children’s health and wellness.

“I am honored to contribute to the Marathon Kids organization as a member of the board,” said Richards-Ross. “As a longtime Nike ambassador, it’s a great fit for me and I’m excited to help more children succeed through running.”

Richards-Ross is one of the world’s best and most accomplished 400-meter runners, starting when she began running competitively when she was seven. She’s also one of only two American women to win an Olympic gold medal in the individual 400-meter race. Richards-Ross earned five medals at three separate Olympics, four of which are gold, along with five world championships, and one world indoor championship. On record, she has run the fastest sub-50 second 400-meter races of any woman athlete and was undefeated for nearly two years.

“We’re ecstatic and proud to have Sanya Richards-Ross on our team,” said Marathon Kids Board Chair Betsy Foster. “Her experience and credibility as a runner and world athlete gives us even more depth as an organization. Marathon Kids is built to put kids on a path for healthier lives, and Sanya has an unmatched commitment to young runners.”

Richards-Ross founded the Gold Standard Foundation, which seeks to improve the community through sports and education; the TeamSRR Sports Clinic, which provides free instruction to young athletes; and the Sanya Richards-Ross Fast Track Program, which helps students in Jamaica by supplementing their education with extra classes, books, and funds for improving school infrastructure, and encouraging an active lifestyle. Earlier this year, The Austin American-Statesman announced that Richards-Ross would be race ambassador for the 42nd annual Capitol 10,000, presented by Baylor Scott & White Health on April 7, 2019.

“Sanya’s connection to Nike and love for youth sports is a wonderful gain for Marathon Kids,” said Marathon Kids CEO Cami Hawkins. “She knows what it takes to be a champion, and her enthusiasm for the sport will spill into our operations to inspire kids all over the country to set goals to achieve their dreams, too.”

Richards-Ross is also the author of three books: Right on Track: Run. Race. Believe (2018) for teens, Run with Me: The Story of a U.S. Olympic Champion (2017) for kids, and Chasing Grace: What the Quarter Mile Has Taught Me About God and Life (2017) for adults.

Married to former NFL athlete and Jim Thorpe Award winner Aaron Ross, Richards-Ross and her family live in Austin, Texas.

ABOUT MARATHON KIDS

Marathon Kids’ mission is to show kids that through running, they can achieve more than they ever thought possible, and put them on the path to healthier lives. The nonprofit organization empowers teachers, parents, and coaches to start a Marathon Kids running club in their home, school, out-of-school time organization, or camp.

Kids enrolled in the program work at their own pace to run, or walk, the equivalent mileage of up to four marathons (104.8 miles) over the course of the running club season. Marathon Kids provides the training, rewards, tools, and resources to a local network of dedicated, motivated, and inspiring coaches supporting them every step of the way.

Corporate partners and supporters include Nike, HEB, St. David’s Foundation, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, LA Dodgers Foundation, Active Schools, MedSpring, Austin Runners Club, Tejas Trails, and Athletes for Hope.

For more information, please visit marathonkids.org.

ABOUT SANYA RICHARDS-ROSS

Sanya Richards-Ross is the fastest American woman in history at 400 meters. She became the first American woman in 28 years, and only the second in history, to be crowned Olympic Champion over 400m at the 2012 Games in London. Surging past her competitors in the last 50 meters of the race, Richards-Ross claimed her crown as 400 meter queen in dramatic fashion.  The London games also set the stage for Sanya to become the second most decorated female track and field Olympians of all time. By winning her fourth gold medal, after anchoring the 4x400m relay team to gold for the third consecutive time, Sanya firmly solidified her place in sports history.

In addition to Sanya’s track prowess, Sanya is also an entrepreneur, TV personality, Public Speaker and Humanitarian. She is the founder of the Sanya Richards-Ross Fast Track Program in Kingston, Jamaica which has provided more than 700 children with literacy training, physical education, and healthy meals. Her sports clinics educate, empower and provide youth with tools and strategies to excel both on and off the track.

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Three years ago, Gigi was a brand new member of the Pershing Panthers Run Club. She was a shy and timid first grader, always seeking approval from her teachers.

Now she’s a fourth grade standout amongst her 112 fellow run club members. Nominated by her coach and principal, Gigi is being celebrated for making the biggest transformation yet through Marathon Kids.

Marathon Kids

Setting Goals

Gigi’s on her way to becoming her best self and all she needed was a little encouragement from her Marathon Kids coach, Gert August.

In 2015, Coach August encouraged Gigi to accomplish some potentially scary new goals, including running her first 5k race. Gigi felt so accomplished and proud of herself at the finish line that she told her parents, “I can do anything now.”

At six years old, Gigi could beat the seven and eight-year-olds in a race, and she now runs a 5k in an impressive 22 minutes. Her love of running has also transferred to the soccer field, where she can be found sprinting from end to end.

Marathon Kids

Gaining Confidence

But Marathon Kids isn’t simply about running or running fast.

As her stamina and speed improved during each run club practice, Gigi was becoming a leader of the pack on and off the track. Her confidence improved with each mile, while her positive attitude and desire to help others also grew.

Gigi now spends her mornings in the school office with her best friend, helping out the staff with small projects. She has also become a role model for the younger kids, including her sister, sharing her incredible love of running while helping coach them during their laps.

Marathon Kids

Self-Disciplined, Motivated, and Strong

Gigi’s coach now describes her as “self-disciplined, motivated, and strong,” a major transformation in just three seasons.

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Marathon Kids Jackie and Daisy don’t have a lot of safe spaces for outdoor play in their Los Angeles neighborhood.

The nearby parks have been taken over by gang activity, which means that their school playground has become their sanctuary.

“This is the only place I get a chance to run freely because my parents don’t take me to the park, and they don’t want me to go alone either,” said Daisy.

When Jackie and Daisy were in first grade, they enjoyed running, but didn’t have a run club at their school to join. When their running-obsessed teacher, Ms. Lizbeth Tello, noticed this program gap, she launched the Marathon Kids program. Soon, Jackie and Daisy were on their way to completing their first, second, third, and fourth marathons (and more!).

As fourth graders, the girls were described as shy and quiet, never liking to be the center of attention. Over the last three seasons, Jackie and Daisy have become more outgoing, building their friendships and expanding their friend groups through running.

“Run club has helped me come out of my shell,” said Jackie.

Marathon Kids

When I came to this school, I was struggling academically. Running has helped me release this stress,” said Daisy.

Marathon KidsFor the past few years, Coach Tello has celebrated her most dedicated run club members by brining them to a special race in Los Angeles called the Chinatown Firecracker 10k Run.

Because of generous donors through a GoFundMe campaign, Coach Tello has been able to cover the costs of eight race bibs. This year, she’s already raised enough to bring 25 of her runners to the February 10k, including Jackie and Daisy.

As they’ve built up their confidence over the last three seasons, the girls’ competitive sides have come out too. While Daisy felt strong going into her first Firecracker run, she joked that her parents didn’t feel as confident.

“My parents were proud of me, but at first they weren’t sure if I was going to be able to make it.”

Not only did she make it through the 6.2 mile race, she won first place in her age group. Jackie and her teammate triumphantly cross the finish line together.

Coach Tello has proudly watched Daisy push herself, and has even been the one on her tail trying to catch up!

“During last year’s Firecracker Run, I got emotional and started crying because I was so proud of Daisy. I had a terrible side ache throughout the run and wanted to stop so badly, but Daisy was a few steps in front of me and kept motivating me to keep going and finish the 10k.

As her coach, I’m supposed to be the one pushing her, but she was my inspiration! I kept thinking, I have to finish, I have to finish for her!” said Coach Tello.

Before the Firecracker Run, Jackie and Daisy had never participated in an official race before, but both walked away with participation and age group medals, as well as a fiery determination to do even better this year.

Today, they still don’t like being the center of attention, but they love their new circle of friends and the running sanctuary that Coach Tello has given them through Marathon Kids.

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Jane Kim is a college senior at the University of Texas in Austin, studying corporate communications. She is constantly on her phone or laptop, she says, and the barrage of digital media draws her in. At the same time, she sees that kids are doing more and more indoors on a screen, and spending less time outdoors. She sees a need for kids to run.

Growing up in Pflugerville, Texas, Jane and her older sister attended Timmerman Elementary School and participated in the Marathon Kids program. Some years, she only ran the minimum amount, Jane says. And some years, she ran much more. After she finished 5th grade, she participated in track, cross country, and soccer in both middle school and high school, and ran on her own every day.

This year, Jane completed her 8th half-marathon in San Francisco, and running is a big part of her life, she says.

“Marathon Kids spurred a lot of my interest and passion for running,” Jane says. “It really opened my eyes to see how fun running is.”

As a kid, Jane was into martial arts and ice skating, and she considered herself someone who was interested in sports. But it wasn’t until Marathon Kids instilled a love for running that continues today that she saw herself as a runner. Those lessons took hold.

“I love running for a goal,” she says. “Distance, or speed. I loved how Marathon Kids made it easier to attain those goals by making it clear what they are, and also having a buddy system so that no one is left behind.”

It’s clear from Jane’s Instagram feed (especially her Fitness highlights) that she loves to run. She sets her goals based on her personal bests at each race, and she knows that every time she meets or exceeds a goal, she is pushing herself to be better and continue to excel. She thanks Marathon Kids for giving her this drive from her elementary school years. She sees how it has changed her.

“I feel like Marathon Kids does a good job making running possible for everyone,” she says. “It’s a judgement free zone – no matter how fast or slow you are, it’s a welcoming place for everyone to improve themselves.”

She is up to her ears in school work to finish college right now, but Jane wonders if she might even be a Marathon Kids coach someday. She understands from personal experience that running gives kids a sense of confidence that propels them to see their bodies in a new light: in strength, and not just a vessel. “I think of Marathon Kids as more than a fitness program,” she says. It is a program for life, and she would love to be that mentor for kids.

Jane doesn’t have her next race on the calendar, but it won’t be long until she’s training again. She’s sold on the benefits that running brings to her life, and she’s not stopping any time soon.

“Running is so liberating,” Jane says. “People always ask, ‘How are you able to run for so long?’ For me, running is my outlet to have that ‘me’ time. That alone time. Even when I‘m running with other people, whether I’m having a good day or bad day I can look forward to a run to empty out my mind. I don’t have to rely on equipment; you’re just focused on you.”

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Berni Lynn-Fischer first heard about Marathon Kids from her friend Cynthia Curb. Curb was a physical education coach at the A.E. Butler Intermediate School in Quinlan, Texas, a small town about 40 miles east of Dallas. Lynn-Fischer and Curb initially met at the school’s workout center, which was available to any adult in the school district, thanks to Quinlan ISD administrators who were concerned about the mental and physical health of the children and the community at large.

Marathon Kids Running Club

Their concern was valid: A Quinlan sixth-grader had committed suicide a few years earlier, and other incidents had also occurred. The Special Education/Special Events Director, who had a background in running, had the idea to introduce children at vulnerable ages to a program that could help relieve tension while building confidence and camaraderie without high equipment costs.

Curb registered for Marathon Kids. “My granddaughter was a part of it,” Lynn-Fischer says, “and she would go out in her backyard and run laps. The program was at the classroom level at the time, and I remember how proud she was of the t-shirt she earned.”

Giving Back Through Volunteering

Then the program director called for volunteers to help out with an after-school running club for fourth- through sixth-graders. Lynn-Fischer, who was retired at this point, had been running for about five years. “Because I enjoy running, I felt I could relate to this and it was a way I could give back. I have 12 grandchildren, each with a potential to become caught up in the hazards of daily life. Ten of my grandkids live in other states, but the two who live in Quinlan did join, and with that first group of kids, I became known as Grandma Berni. Now, six years later, that is still my name.”

Kids Run ClubThe original director eventually left the school district, and Cynthia Curb took over the Marathon Kids running program, bringing it to the Butler Intermediate School. She and Grandma Berni have been running it together for the past four years.

Grandma Berni

“The kids keep me coming back,” Grandma Berni says. “I love this age! I’m short, and they tend to relate to me whether they are shorter or taller. Their energy lifts my spirits! Their need to see a fresh face is endearing and keeps me interested.” Mostly, she says, “I just like the kids to have a happy part in their day, because so many don’t.”

Grandma Berni enjoys helping keep the kids on track. “This is our biggest year so far, with a total of about 50 kids in the club. We make sure these members are serious, and we do not let them drop in and out at will. Our running program consists of monthly goals, serious miles run and pointers to keep them in good form.”

Setting Goals and Celebrating Success

Each club member has a folder in which they keep track of their miles along with new, realistic goals each month. The group finds fun ways to keep members engaged, such as choosing a city, calculating its distance from Quinlan and trying to reach the destination by totaling up their miles together; or giving out Runner of the Month awards for achievements like reaching mileage goals, showing good participation and attendance, or respecting, helping and encouraging other club members. “We also plan field trips,” says Grandma Berni, “either a run or a track meet somewhere outside of Quinlan. The Butler Marathon Kids Running Club has become the most popular after-school club.”

They also allow the students to run at home and count those miles toward their goals. “If a family member sends us a note verifying that their child ran a specific number of miles at home,” Grandma Berni says, “or an organized run or even a hike, then we allow this to be logged into their folder.”

Run Club members are encouraged to participate in local organized runs, such as color runs and holiday runs. “If a family member can get the child to the event,” says Grandma Berni, “we make sure we are there to run with them.”

Providing for Run Club Members in Need

The running club also fills other needs in the community. From the beginning of her involvement with Marathon Kids, Grandma Berni noticed that some of the Run Club kids were “limping” along. “The condition of the shoes was my biggest concern,” she recalls. “Most of our kids come from struggling families, and their shoes are either hand-me-downs or well worn because they are in fashion.”

When she noticed two Run Club members wearing shoes that she, herself, had once donated to a local church’s clothing drive, Grandma Berni and her daughter and granddaughters began donating their own shoes to the club. The extra shoes are kept on hand for Run Club students who need them. “Last season I collected two bags of boys’ shoes,” she recalls, “and dumped them on the gym floor for our running club boys to take. One boy was so thrilled — he said, ‘Now no one will laugh at my shoes.’”

Teachers, administrators and community members also help support Run Club members, donating shoes and other supplies or covering the cost of fun-run entry fees and T-shirts when needed. “We let the kids know,” Grandma Berni says, “that should the event fee be too much for the family to afford, we will make sure that it gets paid for if they can get there.”

Kids Run Club

Making a Difference

As for long-reaching effects of the Marathon Kids Running Club, Grandma Berni says she has recently begun to see them. “At the Homecoming football game two weeks ago, a tall young man came up to me and said, ‘You are Grandma Berni! I just want you to know that I still run and love doing track!’” Her friend Cynthia Curb also ran into an eighth-grade girl who thanked Curb for teaching her running skills; without Run Club, the girl said, she would never have tried out for track or realized how much she loved the sport.

As for Grandma Berni’s biggest challenge? “As I age — I’m nearly 70 — I worry about losing my ability to help kids to run, love it and use it to help themselves and others. I will do this for as long as I am able, and I don’t see an end soon.”