Chris Tamez, who is known to his students as Mr. T, teaches Physical Education at two elementary schools in Rancho Cordova, California—Peter J. Shields Elementary and White Rock Elementary. He also coaches the Crusaders Club, a Marathon Kids run club with about 700 student participants. “We’ve had about 50 percent active participation this year,” Tamez says, “but in a normal year, we have about 80 percent participation.”
Rancho Cordova is a small city east of Sacramento in northern California. Both Peter J. Shields and White Rock are Title I schools; many of Tamez’s students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. “Many of my students do not have opportunities to be active outside of school due to many factors that are out of their control, which could influence their desire to be active at school,” Tamez says. “With limited outside time and lack of education about proper nutrition, their moods tend to be lower in regards to physical activity.”
He sees his primary job as making physical activity fun for his students and finding ways to keep them engaged at school. That way, he says, “hopefully, they can enjoy physical activity and find safe ways to be physically active at home.”
Furthering the Marathon Kids Mission to Get Kids Moving for Life
That goal syncs well with the Marathon Kids mission to get kids moving and set them on a path toward a lifetime of good health. Tamez first learned about Marathon Kids through Fuel Up to Play 60, a school-based health and wellness program launched jointly in 2009 by the NFL and the National Dairy Council. The program’s primary focus is helping schools meet their wellness goals, including encouraging kids to eat nutrient-rich foods and get at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day.
Since Marathon Kids encourages kids to set physical activity goals and work toward them in achievable increments, its program dovetails smoothly with initiatives like Fuel Up to Play 60. Most kids in Marathon Kids run clubs pursue the goal of running or walking 104.8 miles, or four full marathons, over the course of a school year.
As soon as Tamez learned about Marathon Kids, he knew he wanted to implement it with his students. “I saw the potential impact the program could have on my kids,” he recalls. “Kids like rewards at a young age. Making physical activity positive at an early age will benefit them as they progress through school.”
For the past several years, his Crusaders Club has met up to run or walk before school as well as during their PE classes. Their classroom teachers also implement Marathon Kids programming during “brain breaks” during class. The students typically run about a mile at a time; Tamez and the classroom teachers work together using Marathon Kids Connect, a cloud-based lap-tracking and physical activity reporting app, to log the runners’ miles and track their progress.
Adapting to Changes During the Pandemic
Parents have also been pitching in and tracking their children’s miles from home since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic when Tamez’s PE classes and Marathon Kids club went remote. Peter J. Shields and White Rock Elementary have been hybrid for the past year, meaning a blend of remote and in-person learning, but in-person PE has not yet been allowed back on campus.
“That has been a challenge,” Tamez says. Still, he and his students are finding ways to make it work. “We have had many challenges, but we are getting though them. With going from having online PE to only lessons, and now back to being live online, it has been tough, but for the most part, most of my students are completing PE and getting physical activity.”
When running gets tough for his students, Tamez says, the relationships the kids have built with him and with each other get them through. “Knowing that I have their best interests at heart motivates them. They have a set goal each year for distance. They know that it doesn’t matter if they walk or run, as long as they finish their goal.”
Marathon Kids Run Clubs Create Positive Change
Tamez has seen positive changes at school over the past few years since he started the Marathon Kids run club. “The whole mood of the campus has been more lighthearted,” he says, “since students are more active when they’re on campus.”
He feels better, too. “I have always been active, but the Marathon Kids program has encouraged me to run more. If not for this program, I would have never completed multiple half-marathons.”
His advice for anyone who’s thinking of starting a Marathon Kids run club or becoming a coach echoes the famous Nike slogan: “Just do it! It is tons of fun, and the company is awesome!”