Faces of Marathon Kids: Carolyn Dyer

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.