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Paul Carrozza was instrumental in bringing Marathon Kids programming to Austin schools. Consider making a donation in his name to sustain the future of free physical activity programming for children.

Paul Carrozza founded RunTex in 1988, and for a solid quarter-century, the specialty running shop was a mainstay in the Austin running scene. Not just a place for runners of all ages and experience levels to buy running shoes and related gear, RunTex also organized and hosted races around town, led training groups and served as headquarters for numerous events, not to mention as a gathering spot for runners to socialize. It was also known among both beginner and experienced runners as the go-to spot for being fitted by salespeople who could analyze runners’ gaits and strides in order to match them with the perfect shoes.

The idea to launch a specialty running shop occurred naturally for Carrozza, “with my passion for running, community and the lifestyle of maintaining youthful fitness for a lifetime.” Back in those early days, Kay Morris was a member of the RunTex running group. Morris had not yet founded Marathon Kids, but her connection with Carrozza, RunTex and the Austin running community were among the seeds for her idea of a nonprofit with a mission of instilling in children a love of running and setting them on the path to a healthier future.

Planting the Seeds of Marathon Kids

The original RunTex store was located near downtown Austin, and was soon successful enough that Carrozza branched out to other locations. “Kay was a master at PR,” he says. “When we opened the North RunTex, she pitched the idea of doing Marathon Kids in the elementary schools nearby to help us promote the new store and connect with the local community.”

Carrozza loved the idea and wanted to take it even further. “We were just starting the Austin Marathon, and this was a perfect fit. I liked her idea so much, we pitched it to all the schools in AISD and then the surrounding school districts.”

And it worked. RunTex produced the Marathon Kids kick-off and final mile events, providing the water bottles, events, tee-shirts and finishers’ medals. “It was an instant hit, and the rest is history. We were the major funders and event producers for the first 10 years, working closely with the great PE teachers and, of course, the magical Kay.”

Shifting Gears and Returning to His Roots

Carrozza looks back fondly on the RunTex years. “We built a race with every company and every non-profit in town. We put water and Gatorade on Town Lake for 25 years.” He refers to the Austin running community as “a great community—like a giant Cheers,” referring to the classic television show about a bar “where everybody knows your name.”

After the store closed in 2013, Carrozza shifted career gears by returning to one of his longtime favorite running activities—coaching. He is the Cross Country and Track & Field coach at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School, which serves sixth- through twelfth-graders, and also has a training program for performance athletes of all ages called BornToRun. In addition, he runs a business and community consulting firm called Carrozza Athletics.

Born to Run, and a Runner for Life

He is still an avid runner, covering between four and eight miles a day with his wife, Sheila, and friends, or with the athletes he coaches. Since quarantine started in Austin in March due to the spread of COVID-19, his running routine has shifted a bit, but not much. These days, he runs alone or with family more often, and with smaller groups of friends. “Running is doing your part to slow the virus,” he says, referring to the mental and physical health benefits conferred by regular, moderate to vigorous exercise.

When asked what he does when running gets tough, Carrozza’s response is straightforward: “You push through to get the benefits of the hard work.” In his mind, dedication to running has the simple and obvious benefits of “a clear mind and strong body.” He believes that “the body is meant to work, and work hard, daily. We feel better when we do. When we don’t, we get weak, depressed and sick.”

For people who want to start running or are considering getting involved with Marathon Kids, whether by joining a run club or becoming a coach, Carrozza again draws from his roots by speaking to the importance of setting a specific goal, finding your community and setting off on the right foot: “Get a coach, join a team, get proper gear and train for something specific.”

To keep Marathon Kids free for all kids, please consider a donation to Paul’s 25th Anniversary Fundraiser.

Donate Now

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Practicing Effective Social Distancing in Physical Education

It’s a brave new world for teachers! With virtual, hybrid, and socially-distanced in-person classes in the mix, educators have a lot to consider when it comes to lesson planning. To help, Marathon Kids is offering a free virtual training series on best practices for teaching safe distance physical education. Educators are invited to attend our free virtual training webinars for ideas on how to modify their physical activity and PE curriculum to cater to a variety of learning environments.

Our first video, “Practicing Effective Social Distancing in Physical Education,” outlines best practices for managing safe distance PE classes and strategies to engage and motivate students. The training will walk you through lesson plan modification strategies, recommendations on how to keep students motivated, and ways technology can simplify your efforts.

Modifications for Social Distancing

First and foremost, we know some things will be out of your control this year and we recommend following all safety regulations set forth by your school, district, or state. 

We recommend you hold lessons outside—weather permitting—as often as possible. For the most part, the outdoors provides ample space and fresh air is always a plus. Whether your class is outside or in, it is important to provide visual markings where you want kids to stand or stay, start, or stop. A simple, organized method is to create a grid formation to space kids out, and/or to stage individual exercises and skill lessons. You can use domes, cones, tape, or spray-painted lines for visual markings. A grid formation will also help lessen any unnecessary physical contact to ensure social distancing.

When planning your classes for the week, we find it best to incorporate rotating lesson plans with limited equipment. If Class One used X equipment, then have the next class use a different piece of equipment. This saves you time since you will not need to clean equipment in between every class, and you can rotate lessons between grade levels. This method will extend your lesson plans, requiring you to plan less, and this gives time for the equipment to air out making less work for you between classes. 

Rotating lesson plans will also allow the students to feel like their lessons are not repetitive, and keep them engaged. This year, I am sure you are finding that with a limited number of activities and games you can do with limited equipment, changing up the formation or location puts a new spin on things. It can be simple things that spark new interest with kids!

Strategies to Spark Student Interest

Celebrate ALL students who are participating in physical activity, whether they are in-person or learning from home. It is not only about being the top athlete, for some students it’s about achieving their personal goals, building endurance to help them in the sport they play, being a part of a team, and having fun. Be consistent when you reward students, classes, grades, or whole-school achievements. Keep it simple. Kids love to hear their name or class announced. This is another layer of rewarding and celebrating kids, which gives a boost to teachers and highlights the team effort! 

Keeping your runners updated is key to sustaining motivation to stay active and increase participation. The benefit of Marathon Kids Connect, our free PE platform, is the ability to track your student’s physical activity achievements, even during periods of remote or hybrid learning. Not only can students stay updated on their progress through the parent and student dashboards, but Marathon Kids Connect’s reporting feature can help you amplify your school’s physical activity success. 

Spread the word about the great work your students are doing to stay active by creating a visual bulletin board to highlight their efforts! This helps students feel part of something bigger and helps them to stay motivated, plus it builds buy-in for physical activity and physical education. Look for your most improved student, for the cheerleader of the group, for the one who is always trying their best. Meet students where they are at on their healthy journey, while helping them achieve a more active lifestyle.

As we mentioned, kids love to hear their names. Try picking student leaders to lead warmups or active moves occasionally—even during Zoom PE. This can increase engagement and participation during class.

Another way to keep your students interested is to designate theme days to bring life to routine and add a level of excitement. Maybe on Wellness Wednesdays, kids can do yoga/stretching, line dances, and learn about ways to keep their mind and body healthy.  On Track It Thursdays, one group of kids can run and walk laps while a second group is in a grid formation, holding plank until you call “switch.”  With this strategy, you can track laps with our free digital lap tracking app.    

Data to Support your Program

The Marathon Kids Connect platform gives you data to support physical education and accounts for physical activity in all types of school environments including remote learning! Can you say data at your fingertips?

With Marathon Kids Connect, educators have the ability to track and log kids’ effort. Tracking kids’ miles, active minutes, and efforts will add a layer of motivation and can build a school community centered around physical activity. By tracking students’ progress, you are also giving students an opportunity to set personal goals.

School Admins (like your principal) have access to follow your school’s progress and see the great work you are doing. The Marathon Kids program helps students meet the recommended 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity every day. Additionally, the benefits for participants in our free youth running program go well beyond physical activity, including increased learning capacity, improved classroom behavior, and improved attendance, all of which work toward creating a community of health and wellbeing on campus.

PE coaches have the option to invite parents to the platform. If parents connect to the platform, they will be able to submit miles and physical activity done at home. Marathon Kids Connect’s manual entry feature allows the teacher or coach to accept any form of communication from parents. 

 And kids have their very own ID cards, experience cool technology, and have access to personal dashboards to keep them updated. They will always know what mile they are on when working towards mileage goals.

Technology Working for You

 If you aren’t already using a digital platform for PE management, Marathon Kids Connect is a FREE, innovative digital platform that makes every mile and minute of physical activity count, on campus and at home.

This digital platform and toolset were designed to support educators and give greater transparency and quality data to Marathon Kids, educators, parents, students, and administrators. This platform can track ALL types of physical activity walking, running, and any type of heart-pumping activity throughout the school day. 

About Marathon Kids

Marathon Kids is on a mission to get kids moving. The nonprofit organization offers free physical education programming through Marathon Kids Connect, a cloud-based PE and run club management platform that includes a mobile app for digital activity-tracking. 

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Halloween may look different this year, but these five spook-tastic PE games for Halloween can be played with social distancing in mind, making them a blast to play in this season of ghosts and goblins. Turn on some Halloween theme music and get your students running, laughing, and building their fitness!

1. Pumpkin Patch Circuit Training

Prep for this activity involves cutting pumpkin shapes out of orange construction paper—at least twice as many pumpkins as there are students participating—and writing the name of a fitness skill or physical activity on each one. You might include jumping jacks, skipping, jumping rope, Burpees, hopping on one foot, push-ups, mountain-climbers, lunges, crab-walking, planks, and so on. Also, write down the target duration or number of repetitions for each activity. Then place all the pumpkins in the “pumpkin patch” at the center of the gym or activity area.

Students can circle up around the outer perimeter of the area. When the teacher blows the whistle, students must run to the pumpkin patch, grab a pumpkin and run back to their spot to perform the activity listed on their pumpkin. When they finish the specified number of repetitions or the teacher blows the whistle again, students can run back to the pumpkin patch to return their pumpkin and grab a new one.

2. Rolling Pumpkin Relay Race

Divide students into relay teams, mark off a starting line and set up one cone for each team at a good distance from the line. The first student from each team will roll a pumpkin from the starting line to their team’s cone, around it and back to the start, where the next student will take over. Orange balls are perfectly fine for pumpkin stand-ins, but this is also a fun game for using real pumpkins, since they’re often irregular in shape and are rarely perfectly round, which can make them challenging to roll in a straight line!

3. Ghost Bowling

Have students develop their coordination by rolling orange “Jack-o-lanterns” at “ghost” bowling pins! Transform simple white bowling pins into spooky ghosts by drawing on ghostly eyes and mouths with a black dry-erase marker. The same dry-erase marker can be used to draw Jack-o-lantern faces on orange balls (gator balls and regular, lightweight bouncy balls work nicely). You can even use real pumpkins if you use smaller ones that won’t break open and make a mess if tossed by overly enthusiastic students!

4. Zombie Tag

This classic twist on tag is a kid favorite at any time of year, but it takes on an extra dose of creepy fun around Halloween. Children love pretending the zombie apocalypse has arrived as they run, giggle and evade the zombies as long as they can. For social distancing, give the zombies pool noodles for tagging. Add further twists by designating a Doctor—one student with the imaginary antidote that can “save” tagged runners, returning them from zombies back to their human state. Remember, zombies can’t run in Zombie Tag; they can only walk, arms outstretched as they relentlessly pursue their prey. Extra points go to students who make the creepiest, most convincing zombie groans!

5. Freeze Dance To Halloween Music

Kids love dancing, especially when they can groove to the Monster Shuffle or other seasonal songs! The teacher can start and stop the music at random intervals, and when the music stops, dancers must freeze in place. The last person to freeze in each round is out, and the last student standing at the end of the game wins. This game can also make for a Halloween-y twist on Musical Chairs.

Marathon Kids is a nonprofit youth running program that is free for schools and community organizations. Visit Marathon Kids Connect to learn more.

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Back in 2010, the federal government launched Healthy People 2020, a national initiative that sets science-based objectives for improving the health of all Americans. Based in part on the widely known, research-based correlation among kids, exercise and mental health, Healthy People 2020 recommends that adolescents get a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) every day, yet most children in the United States don’t move their bodies anywhere near that much.

The Marathon Kids mission to get kids moving and set them on the path to healthier lives is based on the same research that led to the Healthy People 2020 recommendation. That’s why we’re so passionate about what we do—we know the connections among kids, exercise and mental health, we know the importance of MVPA for everyone, and we know how crucial it is for kids to move their bodies on a regular basis. We also know that, unfortunately, many children with school, homework and other time-consuming obligations have a hard time reaching that minimum daily movement recommendation.

Marathon Kids Connect - the free PE program

The Link Between Kids, Exercise and Mental Health: Daily Physical Activity Can Alleviate Anxiety and Depression in Children

Getting enough exercise can become even more difficult during winter months due to frequently inclement weather and early sunsets. Understandably, many kids aren’t allowed to play outside in the cold after dark, and sedentary screen time often takes over. Compounding the problem, most school districts around the country struggle to incorporate physical exercise into their schools’ daily schedules as they deal with curriculum shifts and budget cuts while striving to meet national academic standards. Plenty of schools no longer provide daily P.E. class, and recess is often only 10 to 20 minutes long. Kids simply aren’t getting enough daily movement.

Physical Activity Improves Academic Performance

The irony is that children would likely perform better academically if they had more school time devoted to physical activity—including not just team sports, but also movement that is less for competition or achievement than for fun and overall health. Research has shown repeatedly that physical activity improves children’s focus, sleep, and energy levels, all of which boost their performance at school.

Essential brain functions are improved by regular, moderate-intensity exercise. Research has even shown that MVPA has a direct, positive effect on the hippocampus, an area of the brain that governs memory and learning. Physical activity helps children improve their hand-eye coordination and motor skills, along with their attention and problem-solving skills. It may seem counterintuitive, but the research is clear: If kids moved their bodies more, improved academic performance would follow.

Regular Exercise Is Also Good for Kids’ Mental Health

The benefits of MVPA, however, don’t stop there. Research published in the U.S. and around the world has shown that regular, moderate to vigorous physical activity—including such activities as walking, hiking, riding a bike, playing basketball or going for a run—isn’t good just for children’s physical health but for their mental health as well. Children who develop the habit of regular physical activity at a young age have lower rates of depression and anxiety than their less active peers. Exercise releases endorphins in the brain that elevate a person’s mood along with their energy levels. The same hormones continue working well after the exercise session has ended to improve sleep, lending further benefits for mood, focus and overall mental health.

Research has even shown that regular MVPA has a positive effect on body image as well as on relationships, both of which can be fraught for children navigating the modern world. Kids today must live with numerous social, commercial and societal pressures, including the pressure to conform to unrealistic beauty standards, and social media has changed the landscape of their friendships as well as their relationships with parents, teachers and other adults.

Physical Activity Helps with Mindfulness and Connection

Regular exercise can help, shifting kids’ focus from their daily problems—that big project due at school, the mean thing someone said about them on social media, the weird look a friend gave them at lunch—to the present moment. Exercise, especially moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise, can be challenging; in the best way, it can force a person to focus only on the task at hand, rather than spinning off into anxious thoughts about the past and the future. In this way, physical activity has a meditative effect, guiding people toward mindfulness by helping them live in the moment.

Physical activity can also give kids a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment as their skills improve and they meet milestones they might not have known they could reach. And whether children play team sports or pursue less competition-based activities like running or hiking, engaging in shared physical activity with other young people can give them a sense of community and belonging while alleviating social anxiety. After all, it’s always easier to connect with others around a shared project or goal.

Regular Physical Activity Has Mind and Body Benefits for Everyone, Including Kids

If 60 minutes a day of physical activity sounds daunting, it can be broken into shorter chunks rather than having to be done all at once. Even just 20 minutes a day, while falling far short of that 60-minute goal, has positive mental health and academic performance benefits for children. With our stress-filled lifestyles, prioritizing daily physical activity is a no-brainer. It’s not just about building strong, healthy bodies, or even strong, healthy brains. It’s about living a longer, calmer and more connected, satisfying and fulfilling life.

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Here at Marathon Kids, we know that active kids do better. We also know that kids who are able to listen, communicate, and problem-solve are better equipped to succeed in school and in life. These are all skills they need to navigate the world around them.

Using the pillars of the Marathon Kids program, many of our coaches are using their running clubs not only for physical activity, but also to prime their kids’ brains, to encourage them to build relationships, and to help their runners unlock the key concepts of social emotional learning.

Core Social Emotional Learning Competencies

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, or CASEL, is on mission to help make evidence-based social emotional learning (SEL) an integral part of the school day, from Pre-K to high school. CASEL’s five competencies are embedded in SEL curriculum and help a child succeed in their personal and relationship skills. More importantly, these five competencies help educate hearts, inspire minds, and help students navigate the world more effectively.  Schools and youth organizations across the nation are now increasingly implementing social emotional learning into a student’s day.

The five competencies are: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, and Responsible Decision-Making.


What is Social Emotional Learning?

SEL is more than a program or a lesson. It’s a process through which children and adults learn how to:

✓ Understand and manage emotions

✓ Set and achieve positive goals

✓ Feel and show empathy for others

✓ Maintain positive relationships

✓ Make responsible decisions

It is about how teaching and learning happen, as well as what you teach and where you learn.

Through SEL curriculum, kids learn positive self-talk, problem-solving skills, and how to build relationships with others. They start to recognize that everyone is unique, that listening to understand can help resolve misunderstandings, and that people sometimes interpret information or experiences differently. And that’s okay!

Social Emotional Learning SEL

Learning Soft Skills

While technology can make our lives easier, it can also cause children to spend less time communicating face to face, to have difficulty expressing how they feel in appropriate ways, and to need guidance in navigating relationships with others.

Soft skills—which are needed to effectively communicate, problem-solve, collaborate, and organize—are becoming increasingly important for success later in life. Recruiters and employment experts have started reporting a “soft skills gap,” especially among young workers more accustomed to texting than talking. Some employers are expressing frustration that while they can teach employees a new skill, they can’t teach them how to communicate, listen, or get along with others.

Social emotional learning plays an integral key role in helping students achieve both academically and interpersonally.  The world needs more critical thinkers, problem-solvers, and well-balanced, relationship-building humans to face new challenges and demands.

Marathon Kids + Social Emotional Health

Through running, we show kids they can achieve more than they ever thought possible. And, the success kids find in setting goals and tracking their progress at running club trickles down to other parts of their lives as well. When kids have higher self-confidence, they are more willing to break out of their shell, try new things, and persevere when things get tough.

Not only are Marathon Kids participants reaping the benefits of physical activity and building endurance, but they are also learning the importance of goal-setting, determination, and relationship-building.

Let’s take a look from a high-level perspective at how the Marathon Kids program connects with CASEL’s five competencies:

Through stories we’ve collected, we know our simple, fun, and effective running clubs create a space for so much more to happen than just conquering laps. Kids are self-evaluating and reflecting on their performance. Some kids who aren’t involved in sports feel like they are athletes—possibly for the first time—and that they are part of a team. Running club becomes a social outlet to create community and spark friendships with a diverse group of peers.

“It felt great to have my teammates cheer me through the spirit tunnel.”

Social Emotional Learning SEL

What’s next?

Whether you are a teacher, coach, parent, principal, administrator, or volunteer, we want to help you incorporate physical activity into your school’s schedule. There’s power in movement. Use it to ignite and regulate kids’ brains, build relationships, and create well-balanced kids who are ready to navigate the world around them. The Marathon Kids program can be integrated into SEL curriculum, brain breaks, and your school culture. Click here to learn how to build social emotional learning skills through physical activity by watching one of our virtual training videos.

“I believe Marathon Kids will help improve kids’ lives socially and emotionally, which will lead to their success in the classroom.”Marathon Kids coach Rene Hernandez

For more information about our free program and training opportunities, including a social emotional learning module, please contact us at info@marathonkids.org.


Marathon Kids is on a mission to get kids moving. The nonprofit organization offers free physical education programming through Marathon Kids Connect, a cloud-based PE and run club management platform that includes a mobile app for digital activity-tracking.

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The research is clear: There is a significant, positive and directly proportionate connection between school PE and academic performance. Children benefit from daily physical activity in multiple ways, many of which support their achievement in subjects like math, science, social studies and Language Arts. Schools and districts that prioritize movement during the school day are serving their students’ needs not just on a physical level, but also on social, psychological, emotional and academic levels as well. So why aren’t more schools making it a point to prioritize daily physical activity for their students?

Kids Aren’t Moving Their Bodies Enough—And Their Academic Performance is Suffering

In 2010, the federal government set a researched-based recommendation for how much moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) children should engage in on a daily basis for their health. The daily minimum that researchers determined was 60 minutes per day of activities like walking or running, playing basketball or tag, dancing or riding a bike, or anything else that gets the heart pumping. This daily minimum has been found to improve health, protect against preventable diseases, and promote overall quality of life.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children benefit in multiple ways when they meet that recommended minimum of 60 minutes of MVPA per day. Most schoolchildren aren’t able to meet that minimum, however, due to academic achievement standards and resulting pressure on schools to decrease recess and Physical Education time in favor of more core curricular instruction time. The unfortunate irony is that decreasing PE time in order to improve students’ academic performance is counterproductive.

Daily Physical Activity Improves Learning and Coping Skills

The physical health benefits of daily movement are perhaps the most obvious and well known to most people. PE class helps children develop their gross and fine motor skills and improve their strength, balance and cardiovascular health. Many may not recognize, however, that PE class also offers children myriad social, mental and emotional benefits that in turn improve their learning and academic performance.

For example, students learn better when their bodies are calm and in control, when they are able to focus, and when they possess strategies for managing stressful situations. Daily physical activity helps them develop all of these skills. Recess and PE help children develop empathy, cooperation and respect for others. Kids who move their bodies on a regular basis experience both personal and social benefits from working through the variety of challenges and feelings they experience during MVPA. All of these benefits translate directly to the classroom and academic achievement.

Daily physical activity has also been proven to offer cognitive benefits such as better concentration and mental alertness, which help children have the focus and energy they need to tackle academic challenges. Furthermore, physical activity has been shown to improve recall and memory, including the ability to move newly acquired information from short-term memory to long-term memory. This aids in students’ learning of facts, dates, vocabulary words and other important elements of their academic lessons.

Daily physical activity also improves student learning via the simple fact that improved physical health means fewer school days missed due to illness or injury, and more time in school means more opportunities for learning and academic achievement.

We Believe in the Long-Term Importance of a Physically Active Childhood

Research supporting the need for increased physical activity among people of all ages is abundantly clear. At Marathon Kids, we believe deeply in the importance of laying that foundation early. Children who develop the habit of being physically active from a young age have a much stronger likelihood of staying active throughout their lives, and that has multiple long-term health benefits.

The Marathon Kids program is based on cumulative mileage accrued over time. This emphasis on building slowly toward a long-term goal helps children develop skills that apply directly to their academic development as well. Setting goals and mapping out the step-by-step process to achieving them are skill sets that kids can use in all areas of their lives, including their core curriculum classes. Setting their own paces and tackling distances that match their own, individual abilities and fitness levels helps children learn to stretch themselves in ways that are right for them—regardless of what their peers might be accomplishing.

While the Marathon Kids mission focuses specifically on running (and walking), the benefits of regular exercise come from any type of aerobic physical activity. Still, research shows that the Marathon Kids program increases kids’ chances of meeting the recommended daily minimum of 60 minutes of MVPA. Schools that incorporate the Marathon Kids program into their daily schedules are making an important commitment to their students’ health in both the short and long term, by giving children the opportunity to improve their physical health, decrease their stress and anxiety levels, and shine academically.

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Michele Rusnak has dedicated the last quarter-century of her career to getting kids active with Marathon Kids. Consider making a donation in her name to sustain the future of free physical activity programming for children.

As someone who grew up in Austin, went to college in Austin, and taught PE in Austin ISD schools for 14 years before transitioning to her current position as Health and Physical Education Supervisor for the district, Michele Rusnak knows this town. And she knows physical education.

“Here I am, 16 years later, loving it still,” she says of her position as PE Supervisor for the district, and of her career in general. “I’m so incredibly proud of what we have done in this city for health and physical education.”

One initiative she spearheaded as PE Supervisor was to adopt Marathon Kids in all elementary schools across the district. She’d long been involved with the organization by that point, having first learned about it when it was founded in 1995, when she’d been a teacher for just a handful of years. “We had a little club as PE teachers, and we’d get together; and we had little running clubs, but nothing big or formal.” When she heard about Marathon Kids, “I knew it was going to be big”—and the more she learned about it, the more she knew she wanted to be involved.

“I loved that Kay [Morris, the founder of Marathon Kids] listened to PE teachers to get their ideas about how to make it happen. We all learned a lot over the first few years, and each year we got better and better. It’s been a wonderful experience.”

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Rusnak repeatedly emphasizes the community aspect of the success of Marathon Kids. When she discusses the organization, she is quick to clarify, “It’s not a ‘me’ thing, it’s a ‘we’ thing.” When asked about unforgettable moments from the early years, she says, “This program is all about kids, but it’s about the teachers as well. When you see teachers get excited about a program, you know it’s going to be successful.” In her view, that has been key to the organization’s sustainability.

When she first became an administrator 16 years ago and adopted Marathon Kids programming districtwide, Rusnak remembers making tweaks to the program over the course of the first few years as they determined what worked best in schools. “The teachers were always willing to go with it,” she says, “because they knew Marathon Kids meant something to our community and our families.”

She reminisces about the palpable excitement in the air when the organization would host kickoff ceremonies and end-of-season celebrations at UT or Toney Burger Center. “The families would come,” she remembers, “and we’d be giving high fives to everybody, and the kids were coming through with their families and finishing and were like, ‘Oh my gosh, I did it!’ And the kids were like ‘Let’s do one more!’ That combination of really getting kids excited about learning but also bringing in the family” was something she’ll never forget.

The Soul of Austin Is Inherent in Marathon Kids

Marathon Kids has grown over the past 25 years from a small, locally-based nonprofit to one with a national reach, with programming in schools across the country. Still, Rusnak credits part of the nonprofit’s success and sustainability to the soul and essence of Austin itself.

From the organization’s beginning, many local companies and sponsors wanted to get involved, and the ongoing, high level of community interest never surprised Rusnak in the least. “I grew up running or walking around Town Lake, and I know we’re a running community,” she says. “Running is that lifelong activity – it’s free, it’s easy, you can go whenever you want. So to see the adults [get involved] and the partnership that came alive—it’s just Austin. That’s what has made this program grow.”

The other essential element that made Marathon Kids a success? The fact that it was built on walking and running, which are available to everyone, regardless of background or ability. “You go through as an educator,” Rusnak says, “and you’re always talking about lifelong fitness and health, and what just walking and jogging can do for your heart. If there’s just one thing you can do, do that. And Marathon Kids really provided that foundation for kids. For 25 years now, we have Austinites that have grown up with this program, and you’ll see them out on Town Lake continuing to run.”

Marathon Kids Is an Austin Icon

When asked about how she feels about the impact Marathon Kids has made, Rusnak points to “what we have done as a PE department—with all the incredible leadership, including my specialists, Pat Warner and Jason Schafer, and what the teachers have done and how they’ve promoted this as well, because they believe in it. If it weren’t a good program with a great foundation over the years, it would have never made it. It’s an icon here.”

She believes it’s also about the message that PE teachers can deliver to students. “This is part of our curriculum. Running, staying in shape, fitness, cardiovascular endurance. When we can do that, and have something really fun and rewarding to provide for the kids, and for the families to see the excitement in the kids and the finishing miles and some of the other events we’ve hosted over the years—it’s been a no-brainer.”

Looking forward to the next 25 years, Rusnak hopes the sustainability of the program continues. “With the new digital platform,” she says—referring to the new physical activity tracking app and digital reporting platform, Marathon Kids Connect, “it’s going to be so much easier for the teachers, and for the classroom teachers and the parents as well. Everybody gets to see the results. It used to be just the PE teachers that got to see the results; now more people get to see it, including the principal, so I think that piece and the sustainability will make the organization that much stronger.”

To keep Marathon Kids free for all kids, please consider a donation to Michele’s 25th Anniversary fundraiser.

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