If there’s one thing most parents can agree upon in their pandemic-induced isolation, it’s that their kids need to get out of the house for safe, socially-distanced fun.
A Delaware County, Pennsylvania-based nonprofit tries to do just that, organizing age-appropriate races for children ages 2 to 14 with an emphasis on exercise, healthy habits and fostering a sense of accomplishment. Healthy Kids Running Series, which started in West Chester, has been to West Philadelphia and the city’s West Oak Lane neighborhoods, and now it’s coming to Camden.
Healthy Kids Running Series will host a one-day event at Pyne Poynt Park in North Camden Oct. 17. The free event will include a 50-yard dash for toddlers ages 2-3; a 75-yard dash for 4- and 5-year-olds; a quarter-mile run for kindergarteners; a half-mile run for second- and third graders; a one-miler for fourth- to eighth graders and a two-mile run for high schoolers.
Jeff Long, a Cherry Hill native who founded the nonprofit, said he started Healthy Kids Running because “I wanted to get my kids out from behind their gaming consoles, and for them to be outside like we were growing up.”
Though his own three children are older — two are in college, the third is in high school — Long, a former Division I runner for St. Joseph University, wanted to bring his knowledge of the discipline to others.
He started hosting running events for kids 11 years ago, something that, he said, “started with us serving cold water in the spring and by the end, we were giving out hot chocolate.”
What is typically a five-week program hosted in the spring and fall will start with the one-day event in Camden, said Long, a Camden Catholic High School graduate.
As it launches in a new city, Healthy Kids Running Series needs community coordinators, local volunteers who’ll spearhead the runs by finding appropriate venues, lining up five to 10 fellow volunteers, and getting the word out so families know it’s happening. Past series have typically drawn an average of 130 runners, Long said.
Long is also hoping to find corporate sponsors to help offset the registration costs for future series in Camden, which he hopes to host in the spring.
The normal five-week series cost $35, but Long, who said he was “fortunate” growing up, also “realized not everyone has the same opportunities I had.”
So he’s hoping corporate sponsors can pick up most of the registration costs for kids — $30 of the $35 — while still allowing kids an opportunity for “buy-in” at a level accessible to most, especially when compared with the costs associated with other youth sports.
But the real goal, Long said, is to get kids outdoors, engaged in healthy activities and feeling like they’ve done something meaningful.
“We give them a shirt, a bib and a medal, just like if they did the Broad Street Run,” he said, referencing the wildly popular annual 10-mile race through Philadelphia. “We want to give them the same sense of pride and accomplishment” that runners experience after completing a long race.
And if they’re not the fastest in their group, or they can’t run the entire distance?
Every runner who participates in Healthy Kids Running should still feel the same way, Long said.
During the five-week series, children build their endurance through incremental distance increases, he said. For the one-day event, the emphasis is on finishing, not on being first.
“This is about creating a supportive community, cheering them on and building self-esteem,” he said. “It’s OK to walk! We’re celebrating the finish, not matter what that looks like.”
For more information on Healthy Kids Running Series, visit https://healthykidsrunningseries.org/
Phaedra Trethan has been a reporter and editor in South Jersey since 2007 and has covered Camden since 2015. She’s called South Jersey home since 1971. Contact her with feedback, news tips or questions at [email protected], on Twitter @CP_Phaedra, or by phone at 856-486-2417.
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