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Children run for fun, fitness at event held at ETSU

Jennifer Sprouse • Sep 22, 2013 at 8:43 PM

Parts of East Tennessee State University’s campus, especially the areas near University School, were infiltrated with young runners Saturday as they grouped to run the 2013 Niswonger Children’s Hospital Kids Run and Walk ’n’ Roll.

Around 9 a.m., children ages 5-12 gathered in front of the school to sign in and organize into age groups to run the 1-mile course in the lead-in event to today’s Bluegrass Half Marathon.

Local schools waved signs, indicating where they were located before the race. The different schools participating in the Kids Run were competing for three community grants awarded by Mountain States Health Alliance to the top three schools’ participation numbers in the run.

At the run with one of the biggest groups participating, Heather Champney, mother of two kids who attend St. Mary’s School and coach for the after-school program Kids Run the Nation, said she was excited to see her club members run Saturday.

She said the running program is an 8-10-week after-school activity that encourages kids to get active. Champney said this fall they’ve had around 40 participants.

“Most of these kids are our runners from our running club,” Champney said. “Obviously, we do running. That’s our main focus, but we do a little health and nutrition tidbits while we’re doing warm-ups and our cool down, and we make sure the end of the session that the kids can ... name their major muscle groups and that they understand about hydration and road safety.

“Our goal is not to see how far they can go, but just to kind of get them into the mode of physical activity everyday,” she said.

Hoping to win one of the community grants at the run, Champney said the money would most likely go toward the St. Mary’s Physical Education Department, as well as the cafeteria.

“It’s a huge group. We’ve had a great turnout,” Champney said. “It’s very gratifying to hear these little kids say ‘Coach Heather, look at me go.’ It’s a very gratifying experience to work with them.”

Helping to organize registration and sign-in Saturday, Dr. Karen Schetzina, pediatrician and associate professor at ETSU, said she was excited to get the run and family activities under way.

“This whole day is about encouraging active living, physical activity in children and families,” Schetzina said. “We’ve got lots of technology in society today that makes us more sedentary, so we really want to provide more opportunities in the community for families to be active and also encourage healthy weight promotion as kids grow up.”

She said even before Saturday’s run, kids and families who pre-registered were encouraged to log the miles that they either walked or ran before race day.

“Over the past several weeks or months they were asked to record the miles that they walked or ran and the goal was overall to do about 13.1 miles, which is a half marathon,” Schetzina said. “Kids are bringing their log sheets to turn in today and getting free passes to Bays Mountain or Wallabees.”

When it came time to race, participants were all smiles as they were released group by group to run the course, which finished inside the mini dome.

Inside the dome, a Family Activity Day was set up for runners, as well as the public, to enjoy for free.

As runners slowly trickled into the area, they were given a participation medal and dispersed to the different activities available, including a SpongeBob SquarePants bouncy house, a gymnastics-inspired activity course brought by The Edge and other health and fitness vendors.

“This is our fourth year that we’ve done Family Activity Day and this is the second year that we’ve done the Niswonger Children’s Hospital Kids Run,” said Joanna Swinehart, manager of health advocacy and communications for the children’s hospital. “We were really excited this year. We had over 500 kids register (for the race).”

She said the day was put on by numerous groups including the children’s hospital, Fit Kids from ETSU and volunteers from Johnson City Parks and Recreation.

“We have six stations that are activities for kids to learn about energy balance and just fun ways that families can do activity together in the home,” Swinehart said. “Our mission is to really promote physical activity from birth all the way up through adulthood. The children’s hospital really strives to just promote activity, let people know how important it is just to be active. It’s some intentional learning, but it’s a lot of fun.”

The Bluegrass Half Marathon will be held today at 7:30 a.m. on West State of Franklin Road at ETSU.

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