Originally published Feb. 8, 2020 in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

By Andrew Goldstein

It is important for people to develop good exercise and nutrition habits early in life.

But in a world of video games and fast food, keeping active and healthy is a challenge for many, especially children.

P3R, the organization in charge of the Pittsburgh Marathon, runs a program that is helping more than 180 schools in Western Pennsylvania motivate kids in grades K-5 to get moving. Students in the Kids of Steel program keep track as they run 25 miles throughout the year culminating in the Kid’s Marathon in May in which they run one more mile — about the length of a full marathon altogether.

“It’s probably one of the most important things we do as an organization,” said Troy Schooley, CEO of P3R. “When I go into a meeting with stakeholders, key officials or anything, the first thing I’ll talk about is the kids’ program because we are changing lives. … Starting it young and instilling this lifestyle is so important.”

Registration for the Kids Marathon is still open at p3r.org, and children can participate in the program without being registered through a school.

Now in its eighth year, Kids of Steel has grown rapidly. The program had about 700 kids in its first year and now has more than 7,500.

The program has been implemented at 183 schools in 12 counties in Western Pennsylvania and continues to spread.

Derek Blyzwick, a physical education teacher at McCormick and Brooks elementary schools in the Moon Area School District and a Kids of Steel coach, said he had over 100 students run the course last May.

Mr. Blyzwick heads a running club at his school encourages his students to participate in the program by telling them that the streets of Pittsburgh are shut down and they will get the chance to run through the city.

Like many coaches and parents, Mr. Blyzwick runs with his students in the Kids Marathon — just part of what makes the event fun, he said. Making the Kids of Steel program as well as the Kids Marathon fun is crucial, he said, because it keeps students engaged and makes them want to participate year after year.

“Having that positive experience is one of the most important parts because at a young age you develop those habits,” Mr. Blyzwick said. “It’s all about the experience. If you have a positive experience with something, you’re going to want to replicate that over and over again, and now that becomes a habit.”

Mr. Schooley said many of the students who participate in the Kids of Steel program do it again the following year. After fifth grade, he said, many students continue running on their own and take part in other events hosted by P3R, like the 5K or half marathon.

“Last year we had over 700 kids run the 5K that were Kids of Steel former participants,” Mr. Schooley said. “That’s what we want. We want them to continue running. Once again, it doesn’t matter if they’re running fast or slow. We’re just inspiring them to continue to move, be healthier throughout the year.”

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