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THE EDTECH AWARDS 2021 NAMES MARATHON KIDS CONNECT AS BEST EMERGING TECHNOLOGY SOLUTION

For Immediate Release: 4/7/2021

AUSTIN, Texas – Marathon Kids Connect has won best Cool Tools: Emerging Technology Solution in The EdTech Awards 2021.

The EdTech Awards recognize people in and around education—and the products they produce and lives they shape—for outstanding contributions in transforming education through technology to enrich the lives of learners everywhere. Established in 2010, the U.S.-based program acknowledges and celebrates the most exceptional innovators, leaders, and trendsetters in education technology.

Founded in Austin in 1995, Marathon Kids has transformed the lives of more than 2.5 million kids to date. Its mission is to get kids moving and set them on the path toward a lifetime of good health, with physical activity programming that is utilized in schools across the country, including all 81 elementary schools in Austin Independent School District.

Launched in 2020, Marathon Kids Connect is the nonprofit organization’s activity-tracking mobile app and cloud-based reporting platform. The platform makes it easier than ever for coaches, teachers, parents, and volunteers to track kids’ miles, log their active time, access free resources, and celebrate students’ progress throughout the year.

When the Covid-19 pandemic forced students to shift to remote learning, Marathon Kids Connect provided a seamless transition between school and home, enabling coaches and families to collaborate in helping kids stay active and continue hitting their physical activity milestones.

Finalists and winners for The EdTech Awards 2021 were announced to a worldwide audience of educators, technologists, students, parents, and policymakers interested in building a better future for learners and leaders in the education and workforce sectors.

“The worldwide pandemic put education and training to the test, but remote learning and working—in many unexpected ways—ultimately brought us closer,” said Victor Rivero, EdTech Digest’s editor-in-chief, who oversees the program.

Rivero credited leaders and innovators, and their tools and techniques, with keeping the learning world connected to knowledge and to each other. “After a year like no other—to all those innovators, leaders, and trendsetters in K–12, higher ed and workforce learning staying connected, productive, persistent, and getting us closer despite all challenges: We salute you.”

ABOUT EDTECH DIGEST AND THE EDTECH AWARDS

EdTech Digest, a leading source of cool tools, interviews and trends showcasing the future of learning, annually honors the best and brightest people, products and groups working in EdTech with The EdTech Awards. Cool Tool, Leadership and Trendsetter honorees span the K–12, Higher Ed and Skills & Workforce sectors.

The U.S.-based program is the largest recognition program in all of education technology, recognizing the biggest names in edtech—and those who soon will be. View a full list of this year’s The EdTech Awards finalists and winners here.

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Donte Samuel has been a Marathon Kids coach in Baltimore for 15 years. Please consider making a donation in his name to sustain the future of free physical activity programming for children.

Marathon Kids Coach Makes Fitness Fun for the Whole Family

DaCoach—also known as Donte Samuel, or King Coach to his students—is the Health and Wellness Coordinator for Belmont Elementary School in Baltimore, Maryland. He has also coached the school’s Marathon Kids run club, the Belmont Ballers, for nearly 15 years.

DaCoach has always included his students’ families in their run club activities, since he considers health, wellness and longevity a community-wide effort. During the past year of schooling during the pandemic, staying connected with his community became both more challenging and more important than ever. Baltimore students did fully remote learning for an entire year, which meant DaCoach had to get creative to keep both students and their families engaged in their Marathon Kids activities.

Around Here, We Create Go-Getters

DaCoach has kept in touch with his students’ families through the pandemic via phone and email as well as through the Marathon Kids Connect app—the digital lap tracking and physical activity reporting platform. Belmont students returned to part-time in-person learning in Spring 2021, but they still have asynchronous-learning days, when they are responsible for completing their own lessons at home. On those days, DaCoach instructs parents to visit his YouTube channel or his Google classroom to see the activities he’s posted—”always things from Marathon Kids” that he found in the teacher resources section of the Marathon Kids website.

“I want these kids to earn their shower. Don’t sit there and watch Netflix all day, and do the bare minimum! No, no, no. Around here, we create go-getters. In order for you to be the impeccable doer that I want you to be and you deserve to be, I want you to get up and move around.”

DaCoach

He believes in the motivating power of parents being involved with their children’s health and wellness. “If your child sees that you’re invested, they’re not going to lie down or slack off. They’re going to be up and ready to go.”

Kids Run Club in Maryland

Parental Involvement Increases Student Engagement

Though it’s been a tough year for people everywhere, DaCoach’s students and their families have stayed active with Marathon Kids and kept up their healthy habits. One student, Lex, has been in DaCoach’s run club for five years. His mother credits Marathon Kids with “instilling in him the love of exercising and being healthy. He chooses better foods to eat because they study health and wellness along with completing the marathon.” (The Marathon Kids program encourages kids to run four full marathons, one mile at a time, over the course of a school year or run club season.)

Lex’s mother says he enjoys the exercise as well as getting to spend time being active with his friends and classmates. She says his Marathon Kids running has also had a positive impact on him academically. “He has learned so much, and it helps keep him focused in school.” She participates in Marathon Kids activities with her son “because it helps show him that health is important to me and it is something to continue as an adult.” She has even seen personal benefits from being active with Lex, including weight loss and a general increase in her health and wellbeing.

Helen, another Belmont parent, has three children, Helena, Haley and Holdyn, who have participated in DaCoach’s run club for three years. “They love running and exercising,” she says, “and they learn from Coach Samuel about the need to get healthy, be healthy and stay healthy by exercising and eating well.” Like Lex’s mother, Helen makes it a family affair by running with her children when they do their Marathon Kids miles.

Teana has two teenaged children who were in DaCoach’s Marathon Kids club when they were elementary students at Belmont. Malcolm is now 18 years old and Keyana is 16, and Teana sees long-lasting benefits from their time in the run club. “My daughter Keyana still loves to work out on a daily basis,” she says. “It has inspired her to want to take care of her health and her body more.” She recalls how much both her kids loved special events they experienced with their run club, such as when they traveled with DaCoach and their classmates to the White House and got to meet First Lady Michelle Obama.

Marathon Kids Is About Fun, Family and Fitness

For DaCoach, those extra-special moments stand out as well—the many high points from his years as a Marathon Kids run club coach. But it’s still the daily work of leading his students by example in creating a lifetime of good health that fires him up and keeps him engaged. “It’s just about fun, family and fitness,” he says, “and making sure that everyone is incorporated in that way.”

Dedicating himself to health and wellness took on new significance for DaCoach when he learned, well into his teaching and Marathon Kids coaching days, that he had a serious heart condition. “Since the age of ten, I was told I had asthma, but I didn’t.” He had open-heart surgery in 2014 to replace his aortic valve, and has been vegan ever since—which can be difficult in a food desert like his area of Baltimore, but continues to be rewarding.

Marathon Kids Coach

In the long run, DaCoach’s health crisis has served to deepen his commitment to making wellness a lifetime pursuit, including and beyond Marathon Kids. He also does semi-private personal training through his company, GameOn!Fitness, and teaches nutrition, yoga and guided meditation—to name just a few. He has also been the Walking Ambassador for Baltimore City since 2017. “We were challenged to do one billion steps, and we did that.” He leads by example, teaching his Marathon Kids runners and their families that a fit and active life is a fun and healthy one.

To keep Marathon Kids free for all children, please consider making a donation to our 25th Anniversary Fundraiser.

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Austin-based water filter company makes donation to help Texas students stay active

AUSTIN, Texas – March 23, 2021 – Marathon Kids is teaming up with Aquasana, maker of water filtration products for the home and on-the-go, to help Texas school children stay hydrated. Proper hydration is essential for wellness and development, and the Marathon Kids mission is to get kids moving and set them on the path toward a lifetime of good health.

With the Marathon Kids program, kids run a cumulative marathon or more, one mile at a time, one day at a time. Runners know the importance of staying hydrated for optimal health and athletic performance, and Aquasana believes clean drinking water, filtered of potentially harmful contaminants, is fundamental for overall health and well-being.

The partnership with Aquasana comes in time for the 41st National Nutrition Month®,  an annual campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to highlight the importance of healthful eating and physical activity habits. The Marathon Kids program teaches children to set goals and celebrate their progress. Active kids need plenty of water daily, and they can work with their Marathon Kids coaches to set hydration goals along with their daily distance targets. 

“We’re dedicated to supporting overall wellness by providing easier access to healthy, great-tasting water,” said Derek Mellencamp, General Manager at Aquasana. “Good nutrition and physical activity are important to schoolchildren now more than ever, and we’re thrilled to support Marathon Kids in helping them establish strong foundations for a long and healthy life.”

Research shows that healthy children perform better in school and make better choices. Marathon Kids will use Aquasana’s generous donation to help more children, of all backgrounds and abilities, access their programming, set healthy habits and achieve more than they ever thought possible.

About Marathon Kids

Marathon Kids shows kids through running that they can achieve more than they ever thought possible. Kids in the program work at their own pace to run or walk the equivalent mileage of four marathons (or more!). They run one lap at a time, one day at a time, and before they know it they’ve gone farther than they ever dreamed. Kids enrolled in the program have a network of dedicated adults showing them how it’s done, and most importantly, a motivated and inspiring coach supporting them every step of the way. 

About Aquasana

Aquasana, an A. O. Smith Corporation company (NYSE-AOS), is dedicated to improving the overall health and wellness of every home by delivering clean, healthy and great-tasting water through its best-in-class water filtration systems. Aquasana’s family of award-winning premium water filters—including whole-house filtration systems, shower filters, under-sink filters, countertop filters, reverse osmosis systems and portable filter bottles—provide easy and immediate access to healthy water at home and on the go. For more information, visit Aquasana.com.

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We were excited for the opportunity to catch up with Marathon Kids’ DaCoach this spring! As the Health and Wellness Coordinator for Belmont Elementary School in Baltimore, Maryland, leader of the Marathon Kids run club the Belmont Ballers, personal fitness coach and owner of GameOn!Fitness, he is a man of many hats. He’s also a man of many names, known to his Belmont students, Marathon Kids runners and personal training clients as DaCoach, King Coach or simply his given name, Donte Samuel.

DaCoach has headed up the Belmont Ballers for nearly 15 years. He’s been vegan for five, ever since discovering he had a serious heart condition. The revelation pushed him to reconsider his own approach to health and wellness, including adopting a vegan diet, and the results have been better than he’d hoped: When he visits the doctor, his bloodwork and other tests routinely show him to be in excellent health.

“It’s been a ride,” he says of being vegan, especially in his area of Baltimore, which he considers a food desert—a region without adequate access to fresh, affordable produce and other healthy foods—and where the chicken box is one of the most popular meals around. “Sometimes people ask me, hey, how can you eat that? But I cut off bites for them and it’s so good.”

The Pandemic Made Health and Wellness More Important Than Ever

Exactly one year since the pandemic caused shutdowns across the U.S., Samuel’s students have finally returned to in-person learning. He is philosophical about the pandemic as well as the ongoing shifts in schooling. “We have to learn to be patient and go through the trials and errors. The students have their laptops with them now, and when it’s time for me to teach their resource class, health and wellness, they stay right there in the class. Everything has to be done inside the class.”

The Marathon Kids program counts 20 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity as equivalent to running one mile.

“We get up and moving. We’ll do a TikTok dance, running in place, jumping rope, lunges, jump-lunges—it all counts as distance.”

DaCoach

The same principles extend to the students’ time at home, where DaCoach always recommends Marathon Kids running for staying active and resolving the challenges associated with long hours spent together indoors. “The beauty of Marathon Kids is, when the kids are in the house with their parents, sometimes they’re getting on their nerves. I’ll say to them, ‘Why don’t you have them run in place for ten minutes, even five minutes?’ Some of the parents are burned out with electronics, so for the tracking, I’ve had the parents write it down and send it to me.”

When he’s working with students at school, he always reminds teachers to take the kids outside. “The track is right there. We’ve worked out how many times around the yard equals a mile. I’ll post it up, so people have the opportunity to see what they’re doing.” Other times, he encourages the teachers to use Marathon Kids as motivation. “Tell the students they’ve got to run their laps before they can take part in the games we’ve set up, and the kids are ready to go. Let’s go!”

Holistic Health and Wellness: Not Just Physical Fitness

DaCoach’s approach to health and wellness extends well beyond physical activity. “At our school,” he says, “I want us to be the healthiest possible, inside and out. One of the things we talk about is roots, branches, seeds and soil. If you eat properly, that’s going to help ward off some of the health issues that may arise. I always say, when you get to dirty thirty, all the oils, salt, sugars, all that stuff comes out of you. So how do you come back from it? You want to make sure that you take care of yourself.”

His students, growing up within a food desert, learn from DaCoach about all sorts of things related to the foods that are most readily available to them. “When they come to me and say, ‘Coach, I opened up this bags of chips and it’s almost empty’—I tell them, you know, that’s nitrogen holding it down. ‘What? What’s nitrogen?’ And that starts the conversation about all these foods, full of salt and sugars.”

He has maintained the school’s relationships with Great Kids Farm, where the students go for hands-on learning about working with plants and raising food crops, and with the Nutrition Lady—Lauren Williams, who brings fresh vegetables to Belmont Elementary for the students to take home to their families. As always, DaCoach continues his years-long focus on the many different aspects of living a healthy lifestyle. “I tell the kids about keeping their hands clean, keeping their noses clean, sneezing into their elbows. I’ve been talking about this for years. Belmont Elementary in Baltimore is one of the healthiest schools in the country, and that’s because we just continue to do it and continue to say it.”

Sticking with Marathon Kids for the Long Run

DaCoach says his longevity with Marathon Kids stems from the fact that the program works—and from love. “I’ve stuck with Marathon Kids because they have shown me so much love. So much love! Another teacher at Belmont had told me about it and introduced it to me, and I thought it would be a great idea. I took it and ran with it.”

The Marathon Kids program encourages kids to complete the distance of four full marathons, or 104.8 miles, over the course of a run season. From the beginning, DaCoach appreciated the way the program teaches kids to reach a big goal in one-mile increments: “Wow, we’ll be able to finish up the 26.2 miles and then the maturation process to the full 104.8—and I just saw how they kept going.”

Plus, there have been some incredible milestones along the way. “Almost five years ago, the First Lady Michelle Obama came to run with us. That was ree-donkulous! I was running with a GoPro on my head.”

Find Your Wheelhouse, and Keep Improving

DaCoach’s Marathon Kids experiences also inform his work as a personal fitness coach, and vice versa. “I had a client the other day, she’d been eating all the bad foods. She wasn’t feeling good. She kept saying, ‘Coach, I want to stop.’ I was thinking of one of my students saying the same thing, and I always tell them—this is what we train for.”

The Marathon Kids program makes running fun and accessible for kids of all backgrounds and abilities, and emphasizes celebrating every milestone. “With so many people with flash bulbs and cheering for us,” says DaCoach, “it keeps it going.”

Most of all, he’s all about helping raise the kids right. “Whatever I do, whether it’s with GameOn!Fitness or anything else, it’s to help thousands of students. Students eventually become adults, and they come back and help.” With anything you do, he says, “you want to find your wheelhouse, and continue to churn the bottom of that barrel. Do the things you do great, and do them better. Find your weaknesses and figure out how to do them best.”

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Betsy Foster has been supporting Marathon Kids for 20 years. Please consider making a donation in her name to sustain the future of free physical activity programming for children.

As CEO of Healthy America and a former senior executive at Whole Foods—most recently as Senior Vice President of Growth and Business Development, a position she held for 15 years—Betsy Foster has long prioritized health and wellness, especially for children. When she met with Kay Morris nearly 20 years ago to brainstorm together about how to grow and expand Marathon Kids, it was a natural move to accept Morris’s invitation to join the organization’s advisory board. In 2007, Foster joined the board, and she has been a Marathon Kids board member ever since.

“I was drawn to Marathon Kids because their mission is about getting all children moving and on a path to health,” she says. “I found Marathon Kids to have a solid program that really resonated with kids and schools, and could be implemented at school to create movement almost every day of the week. This program could address the increasing obesity in our children, and keep them active and healthy and away from screens.”

Betsy Foster

Physical Activity Improves Overall Wellbeing 

Foster believes physical activity is important not just for the mind and the body, but for overall health and wellbeing. “Our bodies need and want to move. We perform better in school and at work if we are active and healthy.”

She appreciates Marathon Kids for the way the organization has created a “structured, fun, inspiring way to engage our children to move, and teaches and instills in them healthy habits they can carry with them the rest of their lives. It teaches them that they can do things they didn’t know they could, and they feel better when they do it!”

Children Need Leaders Who Inspire Them

Foster believes anyone with an interest in helping children build foundations for a healthy life should get involved with Marathon Kids. “This is a great program for our children,” she says, “who need leaders to motivate, inspire and engage them to become healthier and more active. This is a great gift you would be giving to our children! They need you.”

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

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MARATHON KIDS LAUNCHES VIRTUAL “MARATHON KIDS RUN WILD” CHALLENGE TO CELEBRATE 25 YEARS OF GETTING KIDS MOVING

For Release: 2/24/2021

AUSTIN, Texas – For 25 years, Marathon Kids has been encouraging kids to move for their mental and physical health. This year, that has been more important than ever before. That’s why the nonprofit is inviting kids and adults to run wild this spring, with a virtual physical activity challenge!

From March 1 to April 30, Marathon Kids is challenging people of all ages to be active 60 minutes a day for 30 days. 60 minutes is the amount of daily active minutes recommended for children, yet only one in five achieve that goal. In a partnership with FitRankings, Marathon Kids will be tracking active minutes from participants across the country. 

To register for this epic virtual event, visit marathonkids.org/run-wild. Registration is free, but everyone is invited to donate and receive an event T-shirt. Participants are encouraged to check the FitRankings leaderboard throughout the challenge, to watch their active minutes add up during the challenge. 

Founded in Austin in 1995, Marathon Kids is a nonprofit on a mission to get kids moving. The Marathon Kids program is implemented in Austin ISD districtwide, as well as hundreds of other schools across the country. Kids who participate in the running and walking program set goals to cover a cumulative four marathons, or 104.8 miles, over the course of the school year, one mile at a time.

As of 2020, the Marathon Kids program is offered at no charge for all schools and community organizations and includes access to Marathon Kids Connect, the organization’s new physical activity tracking app and reporting platform. Marathon Kids Connect was developed to make it easier than ever to track and report on kids’ active time, and it has helped to meet students’ shifting needs during the 2020–21 school year. 

More About Marathon Kids

Marathon Kids has inspired more than 2.5 million children over the past 25 years to live happier, healthier lives.

When kids move their bodies with Marathon Kids, they have a much better chance of getting enough daily physical activity. That’s good news for their bodies and their minds. When kids feel healthy, they perform better in school, exhibit better behavior, and make better choices.

Research shows that the Marathon Kids program gets kids active and jump-starts long-lasting good health. Through running, Marathon Kids shows kids they can achieve more than they ever thought possible. Visit MarathonKids.org to learn more.

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Carolyn Dyer has been supporting Marathon Kids since the beginning. Please consider making a donation in her name to sustain the future of free physical activity programming for children.

Carolyn Dyer had been teaching Physical Education for 22 years and had just recently moved back to Austin when she met up with her friend Kay Morris in 1995. Morris told Dyer about her dream of having elementary children complete a marathon—not all at once, but in small increments and over a period of time.

“Kay asked me, ‘Do you think we could facilitate it through the PE teachers?’” Dyer says. “I told her I could take it to them and explain her ideas, and everyone of course jumped on it.” Almost just like that, Marathon Kids was born.

Dyer has many fond memories from the next decade-plus, when she led run clubs, facilitated larger Marathon Kids events and helped to shape the organization into what it is today.

She remembers Lance Armstrong coming out to lead the student runners on his bike at one of the early Marathon Kids events at Auditorium Shores. “I’ve never forgotten this,” says Dyer. “I was up at the starting line, and it was fifth grade running first, and we had a mile marked off. Lance wasn’t but ten feet in front of the group. We said, ‘Lance, you’ve got to get further out.’ Sure enough, soon as the gun went off, those fifth-graders were racing. They took off, and he was pedaling for his life!”

In those early months and years of the organization, Dyer says, Austin-area PE teachers learned how to manage their Marathon Kids run clubs and the organization’s larger events through trial and error. And she credits Marathon Kids founder Kay Morris with the creative vision that brought it all to life. “Kay came up with brilliant ideas. The kids could go and earn a free tee-shirt, and they didn’t have to pay a penny to be a part of this. Kay always had a good MC to keep the ball rolling at events, and balloons at the finish line, everything decorated so nice.”

Marathon Kids Has Always Been a Community Effort

Morris involved the local Austin community from the start, which Dyer sees as a key strategy that cemented the organization’s success. “Kay would get donations from companies, and RunTex was always a big donor. She’d have the Austin SWAT team come run with the kids. Governor Rick Perry came one time and asked if he could hand out the tee-shirts.”

Dyer remembers one particular event in autumn at the Toney Burger Center. “Kay knew everybody—she had connections. Next thing I know, she tells us ‘Oh, by the way, H-E-B is delivering some pumpkins, so we can put some out along the course.’ Well, it wasn’t a few pumpkins—it was a couple of hundred or more! So we decided to outline the infield, the whole way around. The H-E-B truck was there, and they drove around with all the pumpkins and a guy in the back. He would toss them out, and Kay and I would catch them and put them out.”

H-E-B is the Official Grocer of Marathon Kids and has partnered with Marathon Kids since 2006 and granted a cumulative total of $1 million over the years. In May 2020, at the company’s annual Excellence in Education Awards, H-E-B gave out more than $430,000 in grants and cash awards to educators, school districts and other recipients across the state of Texas, as part of its Texans Helping Texans program.

Marathon Kids Helps Grown-Ups Follow Healthy Lifestyles, Too

Another fond memory of Dyer’s is from the first big Marathon Kids event held in Harlingen, 20 years ago. “When we came back the following spring [for the finishers’ celebration event], there was a principal from one of the elementary schools who was so excited. She said, ‘I have to tell you all, I’ve lost 25 pounds.’ She’d had her husband mark off a mile for her at their place, and every day she’d go out and do her mile or two miles. So we were reaching more than just kids. Kay’s objective was always more than just the kids; she wanted kids and families doing it together.”

Dyer believes the vast community support of Marathon Kids was partly due to its founder’s energy, vision, and connections, but even more than that, she believes it was the strength of the program itself that drew people in. “At that time there really wasn’t anything [as far as run clubs or running events] for elementary-aged kids, third grade and below. Some kids were running or walking with their parents at a young age, but most weren’t. Many of the schools we were in were lower-income schools, where the parents were working to make ends meet.”

It was exciting when the students’ families got involved, Dyer says. “It’s exciting to come to a track and see all the decorations and balloons and everything, so more parents would start taking part, and grandparents sometimes. Some would come to the kickoff and do a lap around the track with their kids.”

Following Life’s Winding Lead, and Staying Healthy Along the Way

Dyer was not a runner when she was younger, nor did she plan on becoming a PE teacher. She completed two years of college at the University of Texas at Austin as a premed student. Then a connection with a physical therapist who worked with children led Dyer to decide to become a physical therapist as well.

“I went back to UT, and had to major in PE to get my physical therapy degree. I wasn’t going to be a teacher, but I fell in love with it.” She wound up teaching PE in Texas public schools for 34 years, including Gullett, Winn, Odom, Pleasant Hill and Rodriguez Elementary Schools in Austin ISD, before retiring in 2007.

“My love has always been with younger kids and teaching basic movements—how to skip and how to jump and how to throw a ball, how to fall down, how to walk with good posture,” Dyer says. “Now, kids are sitting at computers all day at home. Get some bean bags on their heads, walk a line, they’ll learn to keep their head up and shoulders back.”

Just as she hadn’t planned a career in teaching PE, Dyer didn’t plan to retire when she did, until her son offered her an Alaskan cruise as a retirement gift when she turned 65. She has stayed active in the years since, including walking with a neighbor friend almost every morning; together they average nearly 20 miles a week.

Movement Is the Key

Physical activity is important to Dyer because “it’s important to everybody. Walking is one of the cheapest and healthiest activities to move. You can walk fast, at your own pace, with a walker, with a cane, but you’re physically moving.”

She points out that modern, sedentary lifestyles make regular physical activity even more important than ever before. “In today’s world, kids are sitting at computers for hours—and it’s not just kids. Adults of all ages have so many health issues because they don’t get out and move. My neighbor that I walk with every day has survived breast cancer and pancreatic cancer. Her oncologist said it was because she’d kept in such good shape with walking every day. You don’t have to be a runner or a jogger or a swimmer or a bike rider. If you can only walk, just get out and do it. The key is movement.”

To keep Marathon Kids free for all children, please consider a donation to Carolyn’s 25th-anniversary fundraiser.

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By Jennifer Fisher, thefitfork.com on behalf of Beef Loving Texans.

Gathering together as a family to share a meal and bond over life’s ups and downs has become rare.

In fact, according to a 2013 Harris poll, only 30 percent of American families share dinner every night. Schedules overflowing with school, work, and extra-curricular obligations are understandably responsible, life is crazy. But, let’s admit it, even when parents and kids have the chance to gather for mealtime, our electronic devices often have a seat at the table.

Family mealtime is not only an opportunity to eat a wholesome meal together, it’s a time to make lasting memories that your children won’t forget. 

Regular family meals are also linked to higher grades and self-esteem, healthier eating habits and less risky behavior. Plus, as parents, we get to spend more time enjoying the biggest “projects” we’ve taken on in life and, I think you’d agree, that’s winning the ultimate game!

So, hit the pause button and implement one or all of these tips to make your family dinner table the place to be!  

1. Be Present:

Dinner time could be the only quality time you spend with your family, so take family dinners to the next level by making a point to be present. Enjoy meals together electronic device free.  After all, numerous studies show that home-cooked meals nourish the spirit, brain, and health of all family members. 

2. Schedule It:

It seems contradictory to suggest adding another entry to an already packed calendar when trying to slow down and enjoy family dinner time. However, by marking a set day (or days!), everyone can anticipate the event and plan accordingly. This is especially important when kids become teenagers with their own social schedules. When things get really hectic, think outside the dinner hour and make Sunday brunch or Saturday lunch the big event.

3. Simplify It:

Family dinners do not have to be “fancy-schmancy.” I’ve found that quick, easy, kid-friendly meals are not only less stressful to prepare, but also casual and comforting meals that the whole family will enjoy. Here are some of our 30-minute favorites with beef:

Beef Picadillo Tacos

Beef Fajita Soup

Szechuan Beef Stir Fry

Mexican Beef Breakfast Nachos

4.  Share the Work:

Involve the whole family in making dinner by divvying up the tasks from planning, shopping, and prep to serving and clean-up – age appropriately, of course. For example, little ones can set the table while older children can make a salad or put dishes in the dishwasher afterward. Show ‘tweens and teens various cooking methods and how to plan a balanced meal, budget, and shop. This not only brings the family together for more quality time, but also teaches and empowers children with new life skills.    

5. Make it Fun: 

Family dinner night isn’t just about eating, it’s about connecting and making memories. Get creative and host a theme night, based on a specific cuisine like a Taco Tuesday or Spaghetti night. Give kids free reign to decorate, select background music, and come up with a game for the table. 


Any fact or research noted in this blog post came from the National Family Meals Month™ toolkit. See all supporting research.

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Chris McClung has been supporting Marathon Kids for 16 years. Please consider making a donation in his name to sustain the future of free physical activity programming for children.

Chris McClung—Co-Founder of Rogue Running and Marathon Kids Board Chair

In 2004, Chris McClung was in graduate school at the University of Texas. “We had a project to do associated with the governor’s initiative to promote health and fitness in the state,” he recalls. “We were supposed to figure out how to market that initiative, particularly to the Hispanic population, so a couple of my fellow students and I went to a health fair.”

Marathon Kids happened to have a booth at the fair, and McClung was talking to a representative about their running programming in Austin schools when a woman came up and interrupted the conversation. “She was just profusely excited about the Marathon Kids program. She was talking about how her kid was doing it through his school, and they had started running laps after school together. She talked about how she had lost 30 pounds and was feeling better and healthier because of it, and how her relationship with her son was improved because of their ability to do this activity together. I thought that was pretty cool.”

McClung had played soccer in college and then taken up running after graduating in 2000 as a way to stay in shape. He’d quickly fallen in love with the sport, and by 2004, had run several marathons. He had yet to conceive of running as a career, but “I knew it was something I would be doing for a lifetime. As a runner myself, I already knew the impact it could have on someone, but to see it in action in the community made me want to get involved with Marathon Kids. I knew what it would have done for me if I’d been involved in it earlier in my life, so I wanted to give that back to others.”

Soon after the health fair, McClung was directing a race in Austin on the UT campus, and selected Marathon Kids as the race beneficiary. “Then,” he says, “Kay Morris, the Marathon Kids founder, pulled me in, and I’ve been involved in almost every way possible since—as a volunteer, as a sponsor through Rogue Running, and now as chair of the Marathon Kids board. I’ve got three kids who are Marathon Kids. It’s been a cool ride over the last 16 years.”

The Impact of Running Extends Far Beyond Physical Health

Becoming co-founder and owner of Rogue Running has given McClung a deeper understanding of the impact running can have on someone’s life. “I coach adult athletes because I believe running is a vehicle for life change that extends well beyond the sport itself. I see that in adults all the time: how they build confidence, how they build self-esteem, how they relieve stress and find an outlet for so many things in life. And then it facilitates this change in life that affects their work life, their relationships and everything else.”

He believes the impact running can have on children’s lives is also profound, including building confidence in school. “Obviously there’s a physical benefit as well, but for me it’s more about confidence, self-esteem and the things it will open up in kids’ lives beyond just moving one foot in front of the other.”

One of the things that originally drew him to Marathon Kids was the fact that it was free and accessible to all.

It’s free, it’s incremental, it’s easy, and everyone can really have access to it. Those were core principles that Kay brought to the program early on. She wanted to make sure that not only can kids do it, but any kid can do it, it’s easy to facilitate, and you have kids of all activity levels and all backgrounds who can access the program. Those were pillars of the program early on, and still are pillars today.

Chris McClung

Favorite Memories from the Early Days of Marathon Kids

McClung moved to Houston after graduate school and helped launch the Marathon Kids program there, and was also involved in the organization’s early expansion to Dallas and other cities. “To see the first event they had in Houston was a pretty cool experience.”

Before that, when he was still in Austin, he would assist with Marathon Kids kickoff events at the University of Texas. “Kay was really big on getting kids onto college campuses,” he says, “not only to experience the kickoff event and get excited about the program, but also to see the University of Texas and to hopefully be influenced to want to go to a place like that someday.”

He remembers being a volunteer at one of those early UT events. “They would bring the kids down out of the stands in waves, and they would come through after finishing a lap and get autographs from University of Texas athletes. Just seeing the look on their faces after running and then getting to see those athletes, and being so excited to get autographs from these people that they maybe didn’t know, but who were obviously role models for them—you only have to see that once to think, This is a big deal.

The Future of Marathon Kids

These days, McClung is excited about taking Marathon Kids into a new digital era with Marathon Kids Connect, a cloud-based physical activity tracking and reporting app that launched in 2020. “I think it will only make it easier for people to reach us. We’ve been a very school-based model, which has served us well and has been a great way for schools to engage in it. But now, with the digital platform, pretty much anybody can do it. A family, a neighborhood group, a church group—anyone.”

Marathon Kids is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and though the organization now has a national presence, McClung still sees it as quintessentially Austin. “It’s cool to be part of something that was built here 25 years ago,” he says. “To me, the organization represents what Austin is—a physical activity-oriented community, where people like to get outdoors. And Marathon Kids was very grassroots. Early on, Kay was driving around in her car from school to school, helping teach the PE teachers how to facilitate the program. It was a very grassroots, low-key, scrappy, entrepreneurial spirit that built Marathon Kids, and that is still embedded in the organization today, and it still represents what Austin is really all about.”

McClung looks forward to another 25 years for Marathon Kids, and a reach that extends even further, to kids everywhere. “We would really like to see the community continue to embrace Marathon Kids as this organization that is Austin-grown, but that can also reach much further beyond Austin. The University of Texas has the motto that ‘what starts here can change the world,’ and in Austin, there’s a lot of that happening with businesses that are coming here or that started here, and with the entrepreneurial spirit that this city has. We have this opportunity now to take something that was born here and to take it much further. I think that’s very much what Austin is about.”

To keep Marathon Kids free for all children, please consider a donation to Chris’s 25th-anniversary fundraiser.

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