Raising the bar...
BY MICHELLE SOKOL
By now you’ve heard the bad news.
More kids are getting diabetes. More kids are not exercising. More kids have their heads buried in a computer or cellphone.
But Columbus has a new weapon to combat the grim statistics about child obesity: The Mill Race Marathon SIHO 5K and Kids Fun Run.
Healthy Communities, with help from area elementary schools, last year moved 857 students from the couch to the Fun Run finish line — and this year is thinking bigger.
Foundation For Youth also has partnered with the schools to train girls and boys in grades 3 to 6 for a 5K race.
Leading by example
Schools are playing a bigger role in trying to turn the sedentary tide, including one Columbus model school in particular.
Parkside Elementary School has won the Healthy Hoosier School Award nine years in a row, and results are pending for this year’s award.
The school has been named a Fuel Up to Play 60 success story for engaging students with dance lessons.
More students from Parkside participated in the Kids Fun Run last year than any other large school in the area, with 17.5 percent of students crossing the finish line.
Nora Coleman, the physical education and health teacher at Parkside, has been called the champion behind those efforts. She said there are several efforts at the school to get kids on their feet:
Students run laps around the soccer field and earn tokens to put on a chain necklace. Last year, students ran more than 5,000 miles in both the fall and spring programs.
Soldiers from Camp Atterbury visit the school occasionally to run laps with the students.
There is a monthly mile-long run in physical education class.
Students are tested on their hearing, vision, height/weight, body mass index, safety knowledge and nutrition at the annual Health & Safety Fair.
“The kids keep wanting more, and my goal is teaching the students as much fitness and health education as I can so they learn the healthy way,” Coleman said.
Coleman said many students are already so eager to participate again in the Kids Fun Run — intent on beating their times from last year.
“Our kids get so fired up participating in the Kids Fun Run to prove to themselves that they can run the race with no problem and feel proud in doing so,” she said.
Making the run fun
As children from all over darted from the starting line at last year’s Kids Fun Run, most were grinning ear-to-ear.
“Just watching the kids come across the finish line, they’re so proud,” said Tara Hagan, a coordinator and assistant at Healthy Communities. “They’re so motivated and you can see the look of accomplishment on their face.”
The Kids Fun Run committee will work harder to get the word out to parents about the event, and they’re offering bigger incentives to schools.
The committee is hoping for more than 1,000 participants this year but is planning for 1,500.
The schools in three size categories with the biggest percentage of students completing the race each will receive a $500 gift certificate to Hoosier Sporting Goods, with the runners-up awarded a $250 certificate.
Hagan said the schools have been very supportive of the event, competing for the participation award and the poster contest. She expects registration for the Fun Run will jump when school starts and principals start distributing flyers and information.
With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2012, Jen Shaver said it’s particularly important for kids to get involved in activities such as the Fun Run.
“Habits developing now will dictate behaviors as adults,” said Shaver, community health and fitness director for Foundation for Youth.
Hagan said the event gives students a sense they are involved in their community.
“It is so much fun for them to be with their peers and be socially engaged in their physical environment,” she said.
Although Girls on the Run and Trailblazers graduates participate in a separate 5K race later in the fall, the programs are part of a larger mission to get youth more active.
Shaver said they seem to be working.
Girls on the Run, a youth development program that incorporates physical training with emotional growth activities, had just five girls in 2009. In its last race, 240 girls competed.
Trailblazers, a newer program designed for boys in ages 8-13, had nearly 50 participate in a June event.
Shaver said fall Girls on the Run and Trailblazers participants will volunteer at a water stop, and she will encourage students to use the SIHO 5K or Kids Fun Run as a practice for their own event later.
Additionally, several Girls on the Run alumni have continued running and plan to participate in the SIHO 5K, scheduled for Sept. 27.
Ensley Hammond is one such alumna.
She said she enjoyed running with the girls for the two years she participated in Girls on the Run, but now she’s ready for bigger challenges — and to beat some of the adults in the 5K.
The program taught her she needs to run every day to get faster, and she needs to run through the pain.
Her mom, Janeen Hammond, said Ensley’s new passion has spread through the family.
She and her husband were both runners in the past, but they had not raced in several years.
Now, they make 5K races a family affair — although none of them can keep up with Ensley.
Janeen Hammond said she is glad the program rekindled a healthy habit in her family, but she is even happier with the transformation Ensley went through.
“She still is a very quiet girl, but before she started running a lot she was much more shy,” she said. “Once she started winning races, it did bolster her confidence in all aspects of her life.”
Why does she run?
“Running makes me feel strong and happy,” Ensley said.