ARLINGTON, Va. --
One of the many events leading up to Marine Corps Marathon is the Healthy Kids Fun Run, and this year 4,000 children braved the cold and rain to participate Oct. 24.
Occasional rain showers threatened the course, but nothing could dampen the spirits of the participants. Debbie Stachkunas said her daughter Sara, who participated in the race, was excited about meeting Marines.
“We wanted to support the Marines,” said Stachkunas. “We believe in helping out.”
The fun run was created as a way to develop future generations of runners, said Rick Nealis, director of the Marine Corps Marathon.
Despite unfavorable weather conditions, the organizers of the run were able to accomplish their goal of giving every child that signed up a chance to run, said Nealis.
The children, ages 6 to 13, were split into four different start times so the course wouldn’t get too crowded. The start times were moved up in order to get the runners out of the rain.
Before every race, the runners were led by a volunteer in a series of stretches and warm-up exercises. Participants in the last race were motivated by Sgt. Maj. Leon Thornton, the sergeant major of Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., who led the runners with jumping jacks and Marine Corps pushups.
“These kids are our future, and it’s our job to develop them as leaders,” said Thornton.
After completing the one-mile race around the Pentagon’s north parking lot every runner received a medal.
“We don’t just hand out those medals,” said Nealis, laughing. “Everyone had to earn theirs -- even sergeant major (Thornton).”
While the run was the main event of the day, there were plenty of other activities available to keep families entertained.
Several booths were set up offering health education and activities geared toward children, as well as samples of healthy snacks.
“The key with kids is making exercise fun,” said Corry Matthews, president and co-founder of Fit & Healthy Schools, a four-time sponsor of the event. “Kids learn the best from their parents, and they want to emulate their parents running in the marathon.”
This was the case for the Griffon family, who traveled from Champaign, Ill., to participate in the events around the Marine Corps Marathon. Max, 11, ran in the fun run and his mother, Dominique, ran the marathon the next day.
“I wanted the chance to beat Marines,” she said jokingly.
The Healthy Kids Fun Run was added to the list of Marine Corps Marathon events in 2002. For more information, go to www.marinemarathon.com.