Faces of Marathon Kids: DaCoach

By MK Editor, May 23, 2021

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.”

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.”

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.

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.