What began with a teacher’s idea to get students more physically active has blossomed into a source of pride for Frank Layden Elementary School in Frontenac, Kansas.
Teacher Caroline Capehart grew up in Frontenac, a town built by immigrants and coal miners in the late 1800s, and graduated from Frontenac High School in 1996. Although considered a small town at 3,437 residents, Frontenac is the second largest town in Crawford County.
Our county ranks 92nd out of 101 counties in terms of health risks, with 36 percent of adult residents considered obese and 45 percent report no leisure time physical activity. Capehart, once a cheerleader who began running as a youth and now physically active as an adult, aimed to set about lowering those health risks for the kids that she and her colleagues teach.
Principal Courtney McCartney said she was inspiring them to begin a lifelong habit of fitness.
It was while running one of several marathons in Missoula, Montana, that Capehart herself was inspired.
“I had the idea to start our students on a running program that would allow them to run a marathon, or even just a 5K or 10K to start smaller, but to do it in increments over a period of time,” she said.
Last summer, Capehart applied for the Healthy Habits for Life grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas. She asked McCartney for permission to use the school gymnasium before school, and the program, Raider Runners, was underway.
She was overwhelmed with the number of students who jumped on board: Hoping to have 50 sign up, she got more than 150 of them from kindergarten through fifth grade.
Each Tuesday and Thursday, they can choose to show up to school 20 minutes early and begin laps in the gym.
Capehart enlisted the help of several other elementary teachers to keep track of their progress; they sit in the bleachers and using a Google spreadsheet that she set up, keep tally marks for all names by grade level.
“Eight laps is roughly the equivalent of a mile,” Capehart said, “and kindergarteners through second graders average about 10 laps each morning. Third through fifth graders average about 12.”
Last month, Capehart recognized milestone moments in a special all-school assembly in the gym: She awarded the first incentives to 120 students who reached the 5K and to 98 of them who reached the half-marathon (13.1 miles) mark just prior to the Christmas break.
“We have shoelaces charms for you today,” she told them before announcing the names of the recipients. “They slide on your shoelaces, and then whenever you wear your shoes, it reminds you of how far you’ve come, and it shows other people how far you’ve come, too.”
Costs for the incentives are offset by a $500 donation by Jane Hutsey Insurance & Investments and a $100 donation by Dr. Rob Herron, DDS.
At the end of the Spring semester, Capehart will hold another assembly and award charms and t-shirts to those who have completed marathons.
Capehart, meanwhile, is looking forward to April: She qualified to run the Boston Marathon.
“Running can be a lifelong thing,” she said. “It has been for me so far, and I’m hoping it can be for some of these kids.”
Joanna Rhodes knows the benefit regular physical activity: A busy mother, she makes time for it because it has improved her health, reduced her stress, and improved her well-being. Integrating it into an event to raise much-needed funds for a cause she's passionate about seemed only logical.
The event: The Get Fit TRYathlon, which kicks off Saturday in Pittsburg and continues on Aug. 6.
A mentor for Big Brothers-Big Sisters for more than 10 years, Rhodes' match ended in May just shy of 11 years because her “little,” Cheriah, turned 18 and graduated from high school.
As a board member, she also was well aware of the cost of matching adult volunteers with “littles” who need a mentors; each match requires $1,000.
“But those matches also are invaluable,” Rhodes said. “More than 80 percent of the kids we serve live at or below the poverty level, and 80 percent of them come from single parent households. More than 30 percent of our children currently have or have had at least one incarcerated parent.”
“To match them with someone who can make a significant positive impact in their lives, and show them who they are capable of becoming,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes, who competes in area race events herself, saw the Get Fit TRYathlon as a unique way to bring awareness to the agency and to raise funds. But it also was a way to encourage youth and amateur athletes to get out and get active, perhaps at something they've never done before.
“I wanted to encourage individuals to be active and try something new,” she said. “You don’t have to be the fastest or most skilled. It’s just about completing something that is outside your comfort zone and supporting a great organization.”
“The TRYathlon portion of this event is so encouraging to see someone overcome a fear or improve from the year before,” she said. “There are some kids who have done this event every year and now are no longer using a lifejacket or training wheels.”
She has seen adults doggy-paddle during the swim portion.
“I have also had one adult participant struggle during the bike portion and the next year she was excited because she was able to ride her bike the whole time and not get off to walk,” she said. “That’s what gets me excited when someone else is proud of themselves. It’s not about what you can’t do, but that you tried and succeeded.”
The 5K/10K course will start and end at Gorilla Village on the campus of Pittsburg State University on July 30. The Get Fit TRYathlon will be held at the Pittsburg Aquatic Center on Aug. 6.
The 5K/10K race is open to all ages. Start time is 7:15 a.m. July 30. The free youth TRYathlon clinic is also July 30 from 8:30-11 a.m. at the Aquatic Center. Experienced volunteers will cover the basics of safe swimming, biking, running and transitioning, and safety checks on bikes and helmets. You can register on site.
Kids ages 5-14 can compete in the youth TRYathlon on Aug. 6 with distances varying by age. The Super Sprint Team Relay TRYathlon will feature teams of three any gender over the age of 10. Each individual will swim four laps, bike four miles, and run one mile. Team members can be any gender and must be at least 10 years old.
All participants receive T-shirts and finishers medals. The top finishers in age categories get trophies. Everyone is welcome to the post-race celebration to enjoy food and festivities.
Register online at http://getfittryathlon.weebly.com or call 620-704-1396 for more information. All proceeds benefit Kansas Big Brothers Big Sisters serving Crawford County.
Live Well will spotlight Crawford County residents who have made lifestyle changes, who make living well part of their daily routine, or who have a unique story to share that could serve as inspiration to others. Email suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org