It is Wednesday night in West Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, which means you can find Marathon Kids Coach Margaret Rivera lacing up her shoes and hitting the track.
Alongside her is a group of 14 kids ranging in age from three to 12 years old, and just as many parents and adult volunteers, who all make up the Venados Running Club.
Like every Wednesday night for the past eight months, this entirely community-based club is getting ready to log their one-mile loop run.
For the Venados runners, this single mile is just one of many that they will complete this week. However, this mile is their favorite because they get to do it together.
Marathon Kids Coach Margaret Rivera
Every week Coach Rivera is joined by her son, Enrique Jr., the youngest of the Venados members, who is just as active as his mom.
Although now a 15-time marathon finisher, three-time Ironman finisher, and run club captain, Coach Rivera will admit she didn’t start off as running’s biggest fan.
At age 14, she set a goal for herself: complete a triathlon. She was already a swimmer, so how hard could it be to add biking and running? It turns out that after getting through the swim and bike portions of the competition, the final 2k run felt like an impossible task.
Rather than feel defeated, Coach Rivera resolved to train for every part of the race. As she began to run more, she discovered a new passion. The run became her favorite part of the sport of triathlon.
Coach Rivera had successfully turned a challenge into an opportunity, and she became a runner for life.
It is no surprise, then, that she passed that same passion on to her son. As the child of two passionate runners, Enrique Jr. didn’t want to sit and watch his mom run – he wanted to do it WITH her!
Marathon Kids At Home
Coach Rivera started looking for a kid-friendly way to get her family running together. When she came across the Marathon Kids At Home program, Coach Rivera knew that she had found the right fit. It was flexible and easy to incorporate into her family’s schedule.
Plus, with the help of Marathon Kids’ tools (family’s guide resource, run club agendas, mileage logs, and Nike rewards), she realized that other families in her community could easily implement and benefit from this program too.
With the goal to inspire her entire neighborhood to get moving, Coach Rivera turned to Marathon Kids – this time to apply for grant funding to start a community run club.
“I have seen the impact running has had on my son, and I am a runner. I believe this grant would impact the school and community greatly as it will get kids involved in a sport that they may not have been involved in otherwise. I truly believe running will help the students start a healthy lifestyle at a very young age and develop their confidence and a positive body image.”
Coach Rivera was clearly going to be a dedicated and dependable coach, and with the support of Marathon Kids and her neighbors, the Venados Running Club was born.
Venados Running Club
In its first year, the club has already seen great success. Coach Rivera loves seeing the positive impact that it is making on her young runners, including increased confidence, determination, teamwork, and pride in accomplishment.
“Marathon Kids has been key in building a team that supports each other, as it has given us goals and milestones to work towards and celebrate,” Rivera shared.
While the runners spend much of the week earning miles outside of the club, their weekly looped run is an opportunity for everyone to wear their Marathon Kids t-shirts and feel like a team as they run together. After practice, they color in their mileage logs and celebrate what they accomplished that week.
Coach Rivera and her team of volunteer coaches have not only instilled in their Venados kids a love of physical activity, but have rallied a community around the lifelong health and happiness of its youngest neighbors – and that is something to cheer about.
By Courtney Nikolay and Benjamin Schwertner