Volunteer Coach Inspires Florida Marathon Kids

A few years ago, Justin Tapper discovered Marathon Kids on Instagram and saw a post inviting potential coaches to apply for a grant to start a running club. An avid runner himself, Justin was inspired to apply.

Justin thought the Marathon Kids program would be a great way to get kids up and moving at a local school. After helping with a school supply drive at Hungerford Elementary, located in a lower-income community of Eatonville, Florida, Justin wanted to continue the relationship with the school. He received the Marathon Kids grant and was motivated to get the ball rolling with a Marathon Kids running club there. He contacted the administrators, chose a start date for their first run, and began prepping different ideas, routes, and run club games.

Marathon Kids Florida

“On the day of our first run, I introduced myself to the kids as Coach JT (my initials) and their excitement matched mine once they found out I was from Nike and there to run with them,” Justin says. “We warmed up with some dynamic stretches, I explained the route and overall goal of 104 miles, and then we hit the ground running. Literally.”

Justin has mentored numerous kids from Boys and Girls clubs and YMCAs around the state of Florida and says that he hasn’t met a group of kids as energetic as those at Hungerford.

“They are a diverse, athletic, and wild bunch of kids, which makes coaching for the school even more fun on my part,” he says.

Great coaches not only teach, they also motivate, empower, and inspire kids to move in the right direction and achieve great things. Research shows that having a good coach is key to having fun. And through coaches like Justin, kids have fun, and they’re more likely to keep playing.

One child in particular has inspired Justin as coach to believe that anything is possible. Kyle, a 4th grade student at Hungerford, has a prosthetic leg. The first day he ran in Justin’s club, he proved that he could still keep up with the other kids, if not pass and overlap them, Justin says.

The second week the club ran, Kyle forgot his gym shorts at home and didn’t have his athletic leg on. Kyle explained to Justin that he has different legs for different activities and the one he wore to school that day was just for walking. He still wanted to participate somehow and volunteered to do stationary workouts while the other kids ran.

As the rest of the running club took off to start their miles, Kyle stood on the side of the track and did air squats, pushups, and sit ups. Afterward, Justin pulled Kyle to the side and had him help to come up with the cheer to end the day. Justin called the huddle and all the kids circled around Kyle and Justin as they began chanting “Hungerford” over and over again. The other kids caught on and followed their lead as they grew louder and louder to end the cheer with a loud “BOOM!”

“Kyle is one of many reasons I love coaching and mentoring kids to reach their full potential,” Justin says. “I look forward to seeing where the rest of the Marathon Kids season takes us.”