BY JOHN MCKENNA REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN
A sure sign of spring locally is the sight of running legend Rod Dixon making the rounds at elementary schools to promote his Kids Marathon program, and stressing the importance of physical activity and healthy eating habits.
Dixon, winner of the 1983 New York City Marathon and a bronze medalist in the 1,500 meters in the 1972 Summer Olympics, visited East School and Forbes School on Friday to help students get their Kids Marathon experience off to an energetic start.
Over the next nine weeks, students on their own and during school will attempt to run 26.2 miles — the distance of a marathon — as they work to improve their fitness while watching what they eat.
Students from the two schools, as well as Southwest School, Vogel-Wetmore School and several other elementary schools in Litchfield County, will descend upon the Plumb Hill Playing Fields on June 13 in Litchfield for the Kids Marathon grand finale. That’s when they run the final mile of their marathon with Dixon on an oval track.
Kids Marathon started in 2008 in Litchfield, where Dixon has many friends, and has blossomed across Connecticut, as hundreds of schools have jumped on board.
“We’ve reached a point where we can approach a school district and say this is what we’ve been doing and this is what we want to do,” said Dixon, a native of New Zealand. “We used to have to explain our dream. After eight years, we have results. Now it’s about changing the culture.”
Dixon has introduced Kids Marathon in other New England states and has been hugely successful in bringing the program to schools in Southern California, where he lives.
The event at Plumb Hill Playing Fields will be the ninth and final gathering of involved schools at designated locations across the state. Thousands of students have signed up for Kids Marathon. They’re not only using Dixon’s training principles as a guide when they run, but they’re also trying to eat more fruits and vegetables while avoiding soda and other sugar-filled drinks.
“Kids are locked in and it shows,” Dixon said. “They’re coming back year after year and they’re feeling positive about themselves.”
Dixon was joined on Friday by Bill Burgess of Litchfield, president of the board of directors of the Kids Marathon Foundation. He’s also president and executive director of Partners for Sustainable Healthy Communities, formerly Litchfield Hills Food Systems.
Burgess has been instrumental in the spread of Kids Marathon across the state. He has used his contacts to open doors at the Connecticut Association of Schools and the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, two major supporters of Kids Marathon.
The four Torrington schools, Litchfield Center School and Litchfield Intermediate School now have use of the Lap Tracker, a hand-held device allowing teachers to record the number of laps students are running, be it in the gym or outdoors. Grants from the Kids Marathon Foundation, Partners for Sustainable Healthy Communities, Fit Together and the Community Foundation of Northwest Connecticut funded the purchase of the devices.
“Forbes (School) was the test pilot for Lap Tracker last year,” Dixon said. “It went so well that we decided to introduce it to the other schools this year. It has added an element of accountability because now the schools have exact data on how much every student is running. The kids can see how much their friends have run and know they have to run to keep up.”
Dixon was at the school to promote Kids Marathon’s mission of increasing the activity levels of elementary school students.