Published March 31, 2020 at 10:08am.
Story by Misty Jackson-Miller. Photos provided by Healthy Kids Running Series.
Editor’s note: When we originally ran this story in the Spring of 2020, Healthy Kids Running Series, like many so many other organizations, had to quickly pivot to virtual programming out of consideration for participants’ health and safety. One year later, and Healthy Kids is back IN PERSON this Fall! Registration for this family-friendly event opens July 2, 2021. You can find out more information at healthykidsrunningseries.org/race-locations/allen-tx.
It might seem like a lifetime ago, but last October, over 100 children and their parents heroically endured the triple-digit heat of a North Texas autumn to cheer on the kids who were running their hearts out in a sun-blanched field behind Beverly Cheatham Elementary School in Allen. There were celebratory hugs and high-fives and water fights at the finish.
Community Coordinator Kelly David was proud of each and every kid who had finished the race, despite the heat. Healthy Kids Running Series is, after all, is a nonprofit running program which promotes healthy living by nurturing kids’ self-motivation to “get-up-and-go.” The point of the series, says Kelly, “is not about being the best, it’s about doing your best.”
Healthy Kids Running Series is a fun, community-based, five-week running program for children ages 2-14. Runners compete to earn points over the course of the series, an approach which favors consistency, determination, and improvement over a one-time finish. Kelly says the points system helps kids build a sense of “competitiveness” as well as “humbleness, and an appreciation of what individuals can do.”
The races take place every spring and fall and are organized by local community leaders. In the DFW metroplex, there are four community series. “It is a great family event,” says Kelly. “We have a lot of fun out there, cheering each other on, getting outside. It’s inexpensive, and a very positive environment.”
Kelly has been the community coordinator for the Allen series for five consecutive seasons. She is a passionate runner, a chapter leader of Moms Run This Town, and a member of the Texas BEEF Team. When she sat down for this interview, she had just returned from a weekend in Chattanooga, where she had paced a good friend for 32 night miles of an ultramarathon.
After volunteering at the Frisco series, Kelly was inspired to establish a series closer to home, in Allen. Before she committed, though, she wanted to find a good site for the series–a grassy field that was free to use and reliably available during race days, well-draining, and enclosed enough so parents and volunteers could have eyes on the participants at every turn in the course. Eventually, Kelly settled on the field behind Beverly Cheatham Elementary School, and the founder of HKRS, Jeff Long, came out and helped her mark the course.
Approximately 85 children participated in the first Allen series. Since then, Kelly has been busy promoting the program on social media and through word-of-mouth networks. This year, over 125 participants have registered for the spring series, a milestone which means that trophies will be handed out to the top three finishers in each age category.
Kelly attributes a lot of the Allen series’ success to the volunteers, many of whom are also runners. They turn out at each race to encourage the runners on the field, hand out cooling towels at the finish, and sometimes even jump into the race as pacesetters. “They have such big hearts, and love encouraging these kids,” says Kelly. “I’m lucky that I have a good group of volunteers to support us.”
One of the volunteers at the last race of the fall series was Officer Sam Rippamonti from the Allen Police Department. He was there to hand out medals at the end of the series, but when he saw a young boy out of the field, flushed and struggling, he joined him on the field and ran with him all the way to the finish, encouraging him along the way. “We are out there because we believe they can do this, and we want to help them cross the finish,” says Kelly. “It has been heartwarming to be a coordinator.”
As community coordinator, Kelly is committed to making the Allen series a very supportive environment, because “we want everyone to have a good experience.” She strives to keep the focus on finishing the race, not on winning first place every single time. As seasoned as she is at running, she knows that she won’t always finish first, but her goal is to have a good race nevertheless.
Once, she had to pull a finisher aside who was “showboating,” and talked to him about good sportsmanship. Another time, she ran onto the field to encourage a runner who was upset she had to walk and needed encouragement to get back into the race. “It’s okay!” she told the runner. “You’ve got this. Walk if you need to walk. Walk with purpose—walk to finish!”
“This is a nonprofit running series,” says Kelly. “The point is to be active—and we don’t need to deviate from that mission.” In fact, that is what she tells all of the runners as they begin the series, especially on those sweltering afternoons underneath the afternoon sun. “It is fine to walk. Walk with purpose. Walk until you can run again. Make a goal, so that when you get to a certain point, you’ll start to run again all the way to the finish.”
Like so many events and programs this spring, Healthy Kids Running Series has postponed the start of the spring series due to the global pandemic. Meanwhile, the organization just launched a virtual Spring Series so children across the country can challenge themselves to stay active during this time of social distancing. For more information about the virtual running series and ideas for keeping your child active, visit their website at healthykidsrunningseries.org and sign up for their e-newsletter. You can also follow the Allen series on Facebook to get the latest, local updates from Kelly. For even more ideas about keeping your family active, visit Marathon Kids for fun resources and activity logs.
If this story has inspired you to support the North Texas nonprofit community, visit our How to Support Nonprofits During Social Isolation page to learn how you can get involved!