Last week's "Run with Champions" not only gave kids time to be active but also offered them a chance to meet those who've stuck with it. Elite athletes, including Geoffrey Mutai, record-breaking winner of Sunday's marathon and the 2011 Boston Marathon, Christie Dawes, Sarah Porter and Molly Pritz, the top U.S. woman in the New York City Marathon, were there to inspire the young set.
And so, one thousand New York City school children were in Central Park last Thursday to compete in 400 meter and one-mile races at the New York Road Runners annual kick off for the marathon. Dennis M. Walcott, New York City Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, was on hand to promote wellness. "I run, I work out, I eat well," he said. "And you know how old I am? I'm 60."
The kids, excited to be outside, received bright orange New York City Marathon t-shirts and shoelaces. They happily posed for pictures while the Chancellor talked about his marathon plans. "I just want to finish and experience the race," he told Cliff Sperber, New York Road Runner's executive director of youth and community services and Mary Wittenberg, the organization's president and chief executive officer.
According to both the Chancellor and the organizers, the youth program is not necessarily about winning. "I hope... they can see that setting goals for themselves and working towards them is worth the hard work," said Walcott. By Sunday afternoon, Walcott accomplished what he set out to do. He completed his first marathon in 4 hours 23 minutes 51 seconds.
"Yes, every kid gets a ribbon but you don't have to be the fastest. This is about your own personal achievement," Jennifer Slomack, a spokesperson for the Road Runners told me. To promote fitness, character development and personal achievement, Road Runners Youth and Community Services brings free running programs to 400 schools and community centers around New York. On a day like Thursday, they bring the students to the program.
"I'd like to keep running as part of my life," Pritz told the crowd of kids before she went on to become the top U.S. woman finisher in Sunday's race. "Incorporating things you enjoy in life is the key to being happy." She finished 12th among the women, with a time of 2 hours 31 minutes and 52 seconds. Like the Chancellor, the New York City Marathon was the 23-year old's first. Not bad for first timers and evidence, for young and less young, hard work has its rewards.