Leaving a footprint for South Jersey’s youth

The Healthy Kids Running Series, a nonprofit originating in Pennsylvania, has helped many towns nationwide dust off their running shoes

Lauren Leight holding up flyers for the Healthy Kids Running Series

By ALISON LOWERY, The Sun

It’s never too early to get a running start. At least that is the mindset of Cinnaminson community organizer Lauren Leight, who wants to get even 2- to 3-year-olds on their feet this fall for The Healthy Kids Running Series.

The Healthy Kids Running Series, a nonprofit originating in Pennsylvania, has helped many towns nationwide dust off their running shoes. The series, held twice a year, once in the spring and fall, accommodates kids from all age demographics. Children from Pre-K to eighth grade are invited to run in the race most appropriate for their age group.

According to the group’s website, each race series takes place once a week on Sunday for five consecutive weeks and offers age appropriate running events, including the 50-yard dash, the 75-yard dash, the quarter-mile, the half-mile and the one-mile run. At the end of the race, each runner receives a medal and gift bag, with trophies given to the runners with the top points.

“I have always wanted to coordinate a race but I had no idea where to start,” Leight said.

From Sept. 16 through Oct. 14, kids can prepare to get running. Leight designated Memorial Park in Cinnaminson as the site of the races, and with this being one in more than 200 series throughout the country, Leight is confident it will leave a positive footprint in Cinnaminson and the surrounding communities.

Providing an excellent experience to escape from the technological age that manifests in society, Leight believes the series will foster a sense of community in the town’s youth.

“Everything is television-based, everything is video game-based … I see so many kids getting sucked into their house,” Leight explained. “I encourage parents to try and get their kids out of the house.”

With a 4-year-old at home, Leight admits she is always looking for ways to get her daughter involved and active. When she noticed a vacancy in the area for this particular type of program, Leight knew she had to do something about it.

Gathering the support of the community, Leight’s goal is to bring as many kids from all over South Jersey to get excited about being active. She believes it starts with help from the parents and leading by example.

“They (kids) are the greatest imitators and if you give them something great to imitate and something healthy … maybe they will really take that on as something they want to continue to do,” Leight said.

National Director for the Healthy Kids Running Series Tamara Conan explained the genesis of the program and how it has come to flourish throughout the U.S. Conan said coordinators, such as Leight, who express interest in the series go through a vetting process before they can begin working on establishing the program.

Conan jumped on board with The Healthy Kids Running Series in 2013 and hasn’t looked back. What started as a way to get kids across America healthy, has blossomed into a series aimed to raise self-esteem, inspire families and foster friendships. As the first full-time employee of the nonprofit, Conan said she would have never anticipated how receptive the nation has been to a program of its kind.

“I don’t even think I realized how big and fast it was going to grow,” Conan added.

Conan said the series is not only beneficial to the kids participating but to the volunteers, families and anyone involved as it motivates people to stay active and live healthier lifestyles.

“Whether they walked it or ran it or a combination of both, the sense of accomplishment is hard to describe,” Conan said. “It’s amazing.”

For any questions about the upcoming series go to http://www.healthykidsrunningseries.org/race_locations/cinnaminson-nj/ or contact lleight713@gmail.com. To sign up or volunteer, please visit http://www.healthykidsrunningseries.org/get-involved/. Registration is open to parents and kids all over South Jersey.

Parents and kids are asked to arrive at 4:30 p.m. at Memorial Park, 2139 Lenola Road. To participate in the full series is $35 and per race is $10. Races will take place Sept. 16, 23, 30 and Oct. 7, 14 at 5 p.m.