Hundreds of energized fans poured through the gates of Mike A. Myers Track and Soccer Stadium early Saturday morning, but instead of cheering on the Longhorns in their home environment, stadium-goers supported a younger generation of athletes: the Marathon Kids.
Marathon Kids is an organization dedicated to helping schools, families, and communities by encouraging the youth to live more active lifestyles. Saturday’s event marked the kickoff of Marathon Kids’ 20th year of operation. After a recent partnership with Nike, Marathon Kids begins its new approach to the program.
“Our goal is to have more children participate in our program so that they can have an opportunity to live a happier, healthier life,” said Christine Pollej, executive director of Marathon Kids.
Until this year, the program consisted of elementary school children running a full marathon (26.2 miles) throughout the duration of one school year. Now that Nike is involved, however, the organization is increasing the intensity. The new goal is for participants to run the equivalent of four marathons (104.8 miles) in the duration of one school year.
Various Texas athletes were present to cheer on the young runners from elementary schools across the state.
“Marathon Kids used to only be a local event, but now that Nike is a sponsor, it can go nationwide,” said Chris Irvin, junior track sprinter and former Marathon Kids participant.
Caitlin Morris, Nike’s Senior Director for North America Community Impact, said the support from Texas athletes was amazing.
“One of the things kids really need to move is a role model,” Morris said. “Those athletes, without a doubt, are total inspirational figures.”
In addition to the Texas track and field team, other Texas teams such as softball, tennis, golf and basketball supported the kids.
“I never had anything like this,” softball junior Lindsey Stephens said. “To be able to get involved with the kids and to encourage them to stay active is priceless.”
Current Texas athletes cheered from the finish line, highlighted by former Texas track and field star Trey Hardee who jogged around his old stomping grounds with the kids. Hardee won two national championships at Texas in the decathlon and a silver medal in the decathlon at the 2012 London Olympic Games. He said this event can be a life-changing experience for the children participating.
“You can do anything you want to do in life,” Hardee said. “The hardest thing about doing it is taking the first step.”
This year’s Marathon Kids took their first step Saturday morning.