Faces of Marathon Kids: Cindy Samok on the Joy of Running

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

Cindy Samok, Early Marathon Kids Coach

In the mid-1990s, Cindy Samok was a PE teacher at Casis Elementary School in Austin, Texas, where she’d been teaching since the early ’80s. Also an avid runner, she started an afterschool running program with her students. Together, they kept track of laps and did workouts as a group.

Around the same time, she learned about Marathon Kids when our founder, Kay Morris, was starting the organization’s first run club at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Children from that school would come to Casis with their PE teachers to run laps on the elementary school’s track; Samok’s students would pair up with them to complete laps together.

Buddying up was key to making running fun, and fun was key to keeping kids engaged for the long haul. In fact, for Samok, starting a run club was all about passing along the joy of running to her students. “When I was little, running was used as a punishment. I had strict PE teachers, and if you misbehaved, you had to run laps. But I wanted to teach kids about using running for health, as a way to relieve stress, to do buddy laps—talking to their buddy while they were jogging. I wanted them to use it as a way to have a good time.”

Bringing Marathon Kids to Casis Elementary

When Samok decided to launch a Marathon Kids run club at Casis, she knew she wanted to head it up alone, “because I was a pretty competitive runner.” But she also knew she could use some help from the running community, starting with Kay Morris and extending to others in the local running scene. “I knew Paul Carrozza, who owned all the RunTex stores” (a specialty running store popular among Austin runners for 25 years, until it closed in 2013). “Paul was very on board with kids running,” Samok continues. “He designed tee shirts for my running club, and he was instrumental in coming up with the first Marathon Kids shirt as well.”

It was all about passing on that love of running to children, so they could benefit from it in all the ways Samok had. “It was my joy that I always loved doing. When Kay came on board with this free opportunity for all the kids who wanted to run, I wanted that for them—to experience the joy of it. They run so carefree! You run or walk, you run with another kid or alone, you don’t need any equipment. I just wanted to pass that joy of running along.”

She also drew on her students’ natural competitiveness. “During field days at the end of the year, we would have timed miles with third- through fifth-graders, and the fastest runners would get to carry the flag for their classes. We would have kids participate in competitive runs all over town.”

She has many fond memories of her years at Casis and running the Marathon Kids club. “It was really fun! The final mile after the big Austin Marathon—that was really cool. And the kickoff at the Mike Myers Stadium at UT, with the torchbearers and the UT athletes handing out posters and water bottles. It was a big thing.”

Running Is “Epic Stress Relief”

Samok retired from public school teaching in 2011 but knew she wanted to continue teaching in some capacity, and decided she wanted to work with older people. She became a certified fitness trainer through the American Council on Exercise, and now she leads senior fitness classes at Westminster, a senior living community not far from Casis Elementary. She also has a personal training business called Mobile Fitness 2-U. “I’ve worked with all ages,” she says, “including after-school one-on-one training with kids. I just really have a passion for fitness, and especially for lifelong fitness.”

Samok calls running “epic stress relief. When you run, your body produces endorphins to make you really feel that joy. People run for all different reasons: to relieve stress, to get your head clear, to think.” She points out research about running stimulating the brain and helping students perform better on standardized tests. “It helps them concentrate,” she says.

Simple Ways to Keep Moving

Running isn’t always joyful, of course. For every runner, even experienced ones, there are times when getting out there and hitting the pavement or the track is a serious challenge. When Samok was teaching PE, she tried to pass along basic, good advice to help keep her students engaged. “I would tell them to run when it’s not so hot, and to always get water, and that it’s okay not to push yourself. Listen to your body! I tell that to my older clients as well: It’s okay to just walk some days. Just keep moving! That was always my motto. You may not run as far or as many laps, but just keep moving.”

Her advice for others who are thinking of starting a Marathon Kids run club or becoming a coach is simple: “Just make it fun! It’s not just running laps—it’s playing games and having kids come up with games. If I could say just one thing, it’s to make it fun and incorporate games and a lot of interaction among the kids, so they can develop friendships and make it more of a social thing.” Buddying up makes running more enjoyable, and when children enjoy something, they’re more likely to do it for the rest of their lives.

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