South Whidbey youth running program pulls kids from living rooms

It’s 4 p.m. on a Thursday on the Community Parks Trails. Typically, runners are sucking wind and doing their best just to continue, but the young runners occupying the trails around this day and time are bouncing along, laughing and somehow finding the lung capacity to carry conversations throughout.

This is South Whidbey’s version of Kids Run the Nation, a country-wide program that aims to bring America’s youth out from their living rooms to the outdoors, teaching them healthy habits and general fitness.

And believe it or not, the kids love it.

“It’s really fun to go outside and run,” 11-year-old Ella Pozarycki said. “I just think it’s really good for kids like me to go outside and get fresh air.”

Kids Run the Nation is set up to offer programs with various objectives, such as physical education classes, a youth wellness curriculum, traditional running clubs or basic before or after school programs. According to the organization’s website, the group’s vision is to see a “locally managed youth running program in every grade school in America.” The program’s emphasis isn’t on competition, rather establishing an inclusive environment that encourages participation and the development of healthy lifestyles at a young age.

It seems to be working, or at least it has the dozen young participating South Whidbey kids — aged 9 to 11 — excited about strapping on their running shoes and fitting cardio into their weekly schedules.

“Running is a great way to forget about stressful things and it’s a really great workout for your brain and legs,” 10 year-old Cash Jacobs said. “I just think it’s a lot of fun.”

Running coach Shannon Lind said the program has not only excited an already enthusiastic group of kids about fitness, but has bonded them through the group exercises. She said the program was difficult at first for some of them since they don’t all go to South Whidbey Elementary School, but they’re now meshing well as a group.

These days, the kids are known by their peers as the runners. Lind waits at the elementary school when it lets out at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, hands the runners orange safety vests and walks them over to the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District office for their group runs.

“All the teachers and kids at the Elementary School are impressed, so I think they feel good about it,” Lind said.

For Lind, teaching general fitness at a young age is the overarching goal of the program. She believes if healthy and active habits are instilled from a young age, the kids will either go on to enjoy running or at the very least will get some physical preparation for other sports they may be involved in.

She also educates them on their bodies and how they respond to different types of exercises. After taking them on jogs, runs or a series of sprints, Lind spends time with the elementary schoolers talking about how their legs feel, which type of running they enjoy most and what she calls “listening to their bodies,” which received some laughs at first. But she says the kids are responding well to the lessons and runs, even to the point where they are unfazed by dreary weather.

“Rain is my favorite type of weather to run in,” Jacobs said. “You don’t get too hot, you don’t get too cold and you don’t need a water bottle. And it’s fun to run in puddles.”

With kids that have such a high energy level, Lind said it’s a matter of putting that energy toward healthy activities. To get them out of their living rooms and into the outdoors, rain or shine, is Kids Run the Nation’s goal.

The South Whidbey program’s eager kids would make the organization’s higher ups proud.

“With this age group, there is still such a joy for life and that’s what they carry with them outside on the trails,” Lind said. “You have to reign that in a little to get them to focus, but you still want them to have fun and enjoy what they’re doing.”