Dear Mr. President and Mrs. Obama,
Thank you again for having me at the White House Christmas party in December. I'm sure you don't remember me, since I was among the 600 people you met that night. I accompanied a colleague who was on the invite list, Prevention editorial director Anne Alexander, and when we were asked if we'd like to pose for a photo with you, I began writing an elevator speech in my head. There were many things I wanted to say and ask, but I edited them down to two.
But after being spellbound by the high school choir singing "Hallelujah" near the Southeast Entrance and a Marine Corps quartet playing Pachelbel's Canon on the first floor of the residence, then having cocktails and dinner in the State Dining Room, then checking out the dazzling 19-foot Christmas tree in the Blue Room (killer views of the Washington Monument from every window), and making our way through the Map Room (FDR and Churchill sat right there during World War II) into the Diplomatic Reception Room for our moment in front of the flashbulbs... Well, my elevator speech went by the wayside. I managed to thank you for hosting us, noted silently how tall you both are, and realized nothing I said would've stuck in the six seconds we were together. Had we somehow spent a few minutes talking without the impeccably polite military attachés shuffling everyone along, here's what I would've said:
Mrs. Obama, you deserve a lot of credit. After decades of rising childhood obesity rates, several American cities are seeing their first declines. I suspect Let's Move! -- the initiative you launched from the White House in 2010 to help kids and families eat better and exercise more -- has a lot to do with that. But from the beginning, I wondered why running wasn't part of Let's Move!, and I think now is the time to officially embrace it.
Let's Move! currently defines and promotes exercise very broadly, even if that means jumping jacks in the backyard. It's key to make being active seem as accessible as possible. But the fact is that running is the best way for kids to get fit, build healthy habits, set and pursue goals, find self-esteem, make new friends, and change their lives. There are so many physical, mental, and emotional benefits to even a simple running "routine." No fancy equipment needed, no teams to make -- just a pair of shoes and some guidance and encouragement. As I've seen firsthand with my own kids, and the 500 others who ran in one of our races at the Runner's World Half-Marathon and Running Festival in October, it's especially powerful for them to feel the joy and accomplishment that comes with crossing a finish line and having a medal draped around their necks.
Now that Let's Move! is established, it's time to take the next step. Plenty of kids-running organizations provide guidance and encouragement. The four biggest in the U.S. -- administered by the Road Runners Club of America, New York Road Runners, Marathon Kids, and Girls on the Run -- reach more than a half-million kids each year. But to really move the needle, we need leadership from the top, and leadership by example.
Which brings me to the question I wanted to ask you both: Are you runners? I've heard that you are, but when you talk about your early-morning workouts -- which are impressive and clearly important to you -- you focus on "cardio." Mr. President, I know from David Maraniss's book The Story that you cherished running in New York City when you were studying at Columbia. As a senator, you often ended the day with a loop around the Lincoln Memorial. But I don't recall seeing a single photo of you running the way Presidents Clinton, Carter, and both Bushes did. I get it. A Secret Service detail can break the spell pretty quickly, so it's no surprise if, as I'm told, you get your fix these days on a treadmill in the White House gym. But you'll be inaugurated for a second term in a few weeks, and you'll never have to run for office again. Maybe you can really start running again.
If Let's Move! does embrace running, I can't think of a better example to follow than the first couple. Runner's World wants to help, and I'm not trying to invite myself over again, but I welcome the opportunity to talk more. Even if it's on a couple of treadmills.
David Willey, Editor-in-Chief
This editor's letter appears on Page 10 of the February 2013 issue of Runner's World Magazine, on newsstands now.
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