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For Coach Donte “DaCoach” Samuel, Marathon Kids isn’t just a school thing, or just a way for his students to build fitness. It’s a community-wide wellness effort that benefits his students along with their families and their entire community, not to mention himself.

DaCoach

Now in his 12th year of running a Marathon Kids club at Belmont Elementary, a public school in Baltimore, Maryland, DaCoach has led a lot of students through fitness and wellness lessons over the years. During this time, he and the kids have called their running club by various names. The name that has stuck is the Belmont Ballers.

In managing the Belmont Ballers, DaCoach keeps things simple: The children, who range from Pre-K to 5th grade students, run at recess as well as during gym class. DaCoach knows the distances between certain landmarks on the Belmont campus by heart, so he tracks his students’ miles himself. When the bell rings, he puts a hand in the air, holding up a certain number of fingers — maybe two, maybe four or five — and the kids yell it out together: “We’re running five laps!” Then they head outside as a group and hit the ground running.

Kids Run Club in Maryland

INVOLVING THE ENTIRE COMMUNITY IN IMPROVING CHILDREN’S HEALTH

Like other Marathon Kids clubs, the Belmont Ballers focus on lessons in nutrition and wellness along with their running and tracking miles. Toward that end, DaCoach has established partnerships over the years with local organizations and other entities to enhance the students’ lives with hands-on learning experiences.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, for example, Lauren Williams brings fresh vegetables to Belmont, where the PTA divides up the food and delivers it to students to take home to their families. Ms. Williams, dubbed “the Nutrition Lady” by the students, also brings recipes and prepared foods for the children to sample at school. She and DaCoach together assist the kids in nurturing plant beds outdoors; each grade level at Belmont is in charge of its own fruit and vegetable plot.

This is all through a partnership that DaCoach set up with the University of Maryland. In conjunction with Baltimore City Public Schools, DaCoach has also gotten his Belmont students involved with Great Kids Farm, where the students go for hands-on learning about working with plants and raising food crops. In March 2016, DaCoach and the Belmont Ballers were one of just five groups invited to travel to the White House, meet President and Mrs. Obama, and run with the First Lady as part of the Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn.

Kids Run Club in Washington, D.C.

BRIDGING THE GAP IN A FOOD DESERT

In Summer 2017, DaCoach partnered with Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh to kick off the Billion Steps Challenge, a citywide campaign geared toward getting people of all fitness levels and abilities working together toward a goal of walking one billion steps in a year. This initiative is in line with the Marathon Kids mission of getting kids moving in order to set them on a lifelong path of healthy habits.

“Where we live is a food desert,” DaCoach says. “The grocery stores around here are just corner stores, selling chips and snacks, so that’s where the kids have to go when they want to buy food.”

Most students at Belmont Elementary, a Title I school, come from low-income families that may not have access to nutritious foods, or the parents might not know how to cook healthy meals. To help bridge that gap, DaCoach reaches out to his students’ families via text, email and social media to keep them in the loop and share with them the nutrition and wellness portion of their children’s lessons.

Kids Run Club Baltimore

A DEEP COMMITMENT TO HOLISTIC HEALTH AND WELLNESS

DaCoach came about his deep commitment to health and wellness the hard way. Five years ago, he had been suffering for some time from what he thought was asthma. He’d grown up active and athletic, and had already been involved with Marathon Kids for six years at this point. He had also become a certified personal trainer several years earlier and founded GameOn! Fitness, his personal training company. Then he found himself in the position of being 40 years old and facing open-heart surgery to correct a congenital heart condition he’d never known he had.

His doctors told him it would take two to three months post-surgery for him to get back into the swing of teaching, coaching and personal training. DaCoach was back on the job three weeks later. He credits his quick recovery to a lifetime of being active and fit, and to the fact that he adopted a vegan diet after his heart surgery.

Youth Run Club in Baltimore

DaCoach always makes a point of sharing his story and his knowledge of nutrition with his students. He also leads them through weekly mindfulness and meditation sessions to support their mental and emotional wellbeing. So how open are the students to embracing his lessons and incorporating plant-based foods into their diets?

“The kids want to eat their chips and candy,” DaCoach says, “but I tell them it must be incorporated with healthy foods. They also all want chicken boxes.” A local fast-food favorite, “chicken boxes” are boxes loaded with fried chicken and french fries. “The chicken box is everywhere around here,” says DaCoach. “It’s a cultural thing in Baltimore, and the kids prefer that to fruits and veggies. But I try to teach them about making sure your food counts.”

DaCoach teaches his students that healthful foods fuel your body and help you recover from illness and injury more quickly, as he experienced after his heart surgery. In being introduced to these foods, concepts and practices early on, he believes his students will be more likely to incorporate them into their lifestyle for a lifetime of better health.

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AUSTIN, Texas – Marathon Kids, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, today announced a generous donation from MedSpring Urgent Care. The total amount of funding—$17,500—will be used to support the Marathon Kids mission of helping children create a healthier lifestyle through running.

“We share Marathon Kids’ important mission of improving the health and happiness of children by going the distance to provide valuable experiences through meaningful engagement. We are proud of our strong partnership with Marathon Kids because we are running towards the same goal of promoting wellness,” said MedSpring President and CEO Butch Marino.

One of the only evidence-based running/walking programs for children in the United States, Marathon Kids is funded primarily through corporate and community partnerships. Funds donated by MedSpring will help Marathon Kids get more kids moving in diverse communities all over the country.

Butch Marino, President and CEO of MedSpring Urgent Care, will present a ceremonial check to Cami Hawkins, CEO of Marathon Kids, at MedSpring Urgent Care – Buda on Tuesday, March 5, 2019 at 11 a.m. Members of the media and the general public are invited to attend the check presentation ceremony. MedSpring’s Buda facility is located at 1567 Main Street #100.

MedSpring offers patient-centered care in a spa-like environment, for those who need convenient and immediate access to care. For illnesses and injuries that are non-emergent, but still need immediate medical care, urgent cares are an excellent and cost-effective solution. MedSpring provides patients with care seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., including most holidays.

Marathon Kids CEO Cami Hawkins believes community support, including partnerships with companies like MedSpring, is an essential component in helping children adopt healthy habits. “The Marathon Kids program gets kids moving and helps them to stay focused and motivated,” said Hawkins. “MedSpring shares our mission of improving children’s health, lives and futures. We’re grateful they’ve partnered with us to inspire kids to be active and stay healthy.”

ABOUT MARATHON KIDS

The Marathon Kids mission is to show children that through running they can achieve more than they ever thought possible. The nonprofit organization empowers teachers, parents and coaches to start Marathon Kids running clubs in their homes, schools, camps or other organizations.

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 network of dedicated, motivated and inspiring coaches, supporting them every step of the way.

For more information, please visit MarathonKids.org.

ABOUT MEDSPRING

MedSpring Urgent Care is an experienced provider of urgent care services to local communities in Texas and Illinois. Through extended hours, shorter wait times, lower costs, and personalized attention, MedSpring delivers an exceptional healthcare experience to all patients. Our goal is to provide superior patient care while improving the everyday health of our patients in the communities we serve.

For more information, please visit medspring.com.

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Beth Elk Looks Back has worked at the Boys & Girls Club of Rosebud, on South Dakota’s Rosebud Indian Reservation, since 2013, when she used to teach kindergarten and then go to work at the club after school each day. In 2015, the club received a Healthy Habits grant. This grant was made possible by a partnership between the Walmart Foundation and Boys & Girls Club of America Native Services, which enabled Beth to attend training and become the Club’s Healthy Habits Coordinator.

Marathon Kids Rosebud

Boys & Girls Club of Rosebud

The Boys & Girls Club is a free after-school program available to all elementary school children on the Rosebud Reservation. It currently serves about 500 youth on the reservation, and its dedication to improving their health and morale is much needed. Established in 1889 after the United States partitioned the Great Sioux Reservation into five smaller reservations, the Rosebud Reservation is the home of the Sicangu Lakota people. It is located in Todd County, which has the second-highest poverty rate in the country; kids living on the reservation also grapple with serious community challenges including gangs, substance abuse and a high suicide rate. Healthier food choices that are also affordable are often not available to Rosebud families.

Healthy Habits and Trying New Foods

After traveling to Atlanta, GA, for Healthy Habits training, Beth brought home a strong foundation of curriculum and knowledge about making good food, exercise and life choices—but at first, there wasn’t a lot of buy-in from the Boys & Girls Club kids. They thought the curriculum was boring and weren’t interested in participating.

Beth persisted, encouraging the kids to try new foods that they might not have been exposed to before. She always tries the new foods right alongside the children, and has even discovered that she likes blueberries and yogurt—two foods she didn’t used to enjoy. The kids have grown to love learning about new and different foods, and especially love the part where they get to enjoy a post-lesson snack.

Introduction to Marathon Kids

Last year, Glen Marshall, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Rosebud, asked Beth if she’d like to start a Marathon Kids running club. This was a natural next step for an organization focused on improving health.

Some of Beth’s favorite childhood memories are of hiking with her parents, siblings and cousins, so she had already regularly been taking the Boys & Girls Club kids hiking around the area’s fields and hills. The children had also participated in bouldering and rock wall climbing activities through the after-school program. Still, the idea of starting a running club was a bit daunting for Beth. “Growing up,” she says, “I was never into sports, so when Glen approached me with the opportunity, I was a little intimidated at first. The only thing I’d ever done was just running around with kids playing tag.”

A Running Club is Born

She started the Marathon Kids program in June 2018. “Every day I was out there running with the kids,” she says. “By the end of the first month, I was running on my own time as well.” Best of all, the kids loved it. Only 10 children participated that first season, but they were so excited to run—and the other Boys & Girls Club children expressed jealousy about the fact that the Marathon Kids got to go on special running outings to places like Indian Scout Lake and Ghost Hawk Park. One middle-schooler even got involved with the club after his elementary-aged siblings raved about it.

The Boys & Girls Club of Rosebud isn’t just an after-school program; it stays open nearly all summer long, and the children participate in baseball games, walks and other events as part of the club’s TRAIL Diabetes Prevention Program. The benefits of the Marathon Kids club are extending across all of these programs. For example, one little girl’s baseball coach noticed that the girl has become a much faster runner since she started Marathon Kids, and one of the elementary school cross-country coaches told Beth she’d noticed that the Marathon Kids are always able to keep up with her on their distance runs.

This past summer, Beth took her Marathon Kids runners to participate in the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Billy Mills Half Marathon, named after a Sioux runner and Olympic gold medalist who grew up on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation. Some of Beth’s run club kids ran the 5K, and some ran the 10K. “They ran and they ran and they ran,” Beth says, “and they loved it. Billy Mills was at the end of the race, and he gave them a medal for finishing.” They also participated in the Robert Iron Shell Running Camp For Youth that was held at the Todd County High School Track. Robert is a gifted athlete and a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, who attends Briar Cliff University.

A Bigger and Better Next Running Season

Beth is hoping to start up Marathon Kids once again in spring 2019, once the ice and snow have melted in South Dakota. She feels certain the club will be larger this time around. Four other clubs have already expressed interest in joining, and the group is exploring options through various community connections for external funding of the run clubs. The Boys & Girls Club of Rosebud also just received another Healthy Habits grant, which means Beth will be heading back to Atlanta for another training on the new curriculum designed for native clubs.

Beth says her kids can’t wait for the next run club season to begin. “They’re very excited. They ask me every day: When are we going to start?”

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“At Piney Point, the Marathon Kids program means teamwork, accountability and fun!” That’s what Coach Nora Ryan has to report about her Marathon Kids running club, the Trackers, at Piney Point Elementary in Houston, Texas. Four thousand students in Houston will run with Marathon Kids this year, and Piney Point is responsible for 1,200 of them, as the entire school participates.

Piney Point Trackers

Coach Ryan oversees the school’s Marathon Kids program with P.E. Coach Mike Kaehey. Together, they put a lot of thought and effort into making physical education fun for the students. They’re learning as they go, making tweaks as needed to the structure of the program in order to shift its focus toward simplicity and teamwork.

Last year, for example, miles were tracked individually, but this was difficult to manage in such a large school. Starting in the 2018–19 school year, Coach Ryan implemented a new system. Now, teachers keep track of their own students’ mileage on group logs posted on their classroom doors. Each classroom has an appointed student “tracker” who is responsible for updating their daily progress — hence the running club’s name, Trackers.

Youth Run Club

The new group-tracking system has simplified the mile-tracking process, and it has highlighted teamwork with very positive results. Rather than competing with each other in the classroom, the Marathon Kids runners now see their running and mileage progress as a team effort. When they set out to run four laps, for example, the faster runners might complete more than four, or they might go play soccer or tag while the rest of the runners complete their laps. But the class works together, and the group heads back inside only when everyone has reached the goal.

The Importance of Teamwork

“We built the program around teamwork,” Coach Ryan says, “and tracking the miles as a group makes everyone accountable as they work together as a team. The goal is the same for every grade level — to reach four marathons (104.8 miles) by the end of the year. The challenge is to give the best they can. We found this was a fun way to build a strong relationship within each group and to celebrate success as a team.”

Move More to Achieve More

Piney Point Principal Bobbie Swaby is a big supporter of Marathon Kids because she believes in the importance of giving students more opportunities to move during the school day. Piney Point’s Marathon Kids runners head outside to the school’s quarter-mile track at least twice a day; some teachers even take their students out three times a day, weather permitting.

Nora cites support from the principal and teachers at Piney Point as one of the main reasons the Trackers running club is successful. It’s no wonder the club has such strong support: the teachers have all seen improved focus and behavior in their students when they come back from running. On days when the kids don’t have the opportunity to run, there’s a marked difference in their ability to concentrate on academic work.

Fourth-grade teacher Miriam Riley reports that, in addition to increased focus and calm in the classroom, she’s noticed that Marathon Kids has really improved her students’ physical endurance. Runners who used to struggle to complete two miles on the track are now easily completing four or five. Other teachers also appreciate the health benefits they have experienced themselves as a result of running with their students as they work toward their mileage goals.

Marathon Kids Run Club

Time on the Track

Coach Ryan also notes that students’ running time on the track serves more purposes than simple training or exercise. “Our time on the track is more than just meeting our Trackers goals for the day,” she says. “It’s our time for friendly competition among avid runners, for catching up with friends whether they are in our class or a different one, and for enjoying interesting conversations between students and teachers. It’s also a time to just stretch our limbs during the school day.”

Active Kids do Better

“Piney Point is one of our leading schools,” says Felicia Ceasar-White, Houston ISD’s Health and Physical Education Manager, “and Marathon Kids has actually changed the whole school’s culture. Kids are learning better, they’re participating in a number of activities; they have really just been awesome.”

Coach Ryan agrees. “The track keeps us motivated,” she says, “and we hold each other accountable since we all have the same end goal.” As the students achieve milestones, Coaches Ryan and Kaehey visit the classrooms together, where they hand out rewards and incentives to keep the kids motivated.

Focusing on Nutrition

As with every Marathon Kids running club, the Trackers club focuses on nutrition as part of the program. The runners learn about the importance of using healthful foods as fuel for their active bodies, so they can stay fit and healthy throughout their lives. One of Coach Ryan’s tools that she uses in teaching about nutrition is MyPlate, which focuses on building a healthy eating style throughout your lifetime. MyPlate emphasizes habits like filling half your plate with vegetables and fruits, incorporating whole grains in your diet, and eating a variety of vegetables.

Building Heathy Habits for Life

With the whole school involved in building healthy habits for life, Coach Ryan is helping to make a positive difference in the lives of Piney Point’s students and teachers alike. The Trackers running club is a great example of the Marathon Kids mission of getting kids moving and putting them on the path toward a healthier life.