Originally published March 4, 2019 in the Lake Cities Sun.
By Kevin Reynolds
It’s flipping the script on every movie’s classical depiction of physical education. Instead of half the class playing an intense game of basketball, with other groups scattered in the corner and avoiding the activity, Jamie Roach’s “Marathon Kids” is reinventing what PE can be.
Lake Dallas Elementary has become the cradle of the revolution in physical education, where everyone is invested and getting fit at record rates. “Marathon Kids” is a program that strives to have students run the total mileage of four marathons a year.
Spearheaded by physical education coach Jamie Roach, the initiative is in its third year and is spreading quickly. Within the last two years, Corinth Elementary and Shady Shores Elementary have picked up the program and are starting to see results themselves.
“The first year of the program we had around 200 to 250 kids run the total of 26.2 miles,” Roach said. “The second year that number rose to about 300 and now we are hoping to have 675 kids run a marathon.”
The final figure of 675 students would be nearly complete participation by the entire student body in Lake Dallas Elementary. During the last school year, students ran a combined 8,661 miles. This year, with four months of the school year remaining, the program has led to a total of 7,944 miles.
According to Coach Roach, students can earn miles by either running miles during recess or during the physical education class period. Some, that are completed at home, are still counted but toward a separate goal. These miles can either be walked or ran and are recorded on an iPad that was given to the students through a grant.
“The students are given an iPad at the start of the year. There is a chip that records miles the run, and students can track it after every lap,” Roach said.
More than the numbers though, this program is transforming the way PE is done. The most successful, and eager, participants are the non-traditional athletes. The highest mileage getters, throughout the program’s history, are students who do not normally excel in physical education but have found their niche.
“Our top runners are people that are not my most athletic kids,” Roach said. “We had one boy who does not speak to teachers or his peers in school. He is one of my best runners, and we announce his name on the announcements and his classmates cheer for him. Now he is laughing, still hasn’t spoken yet, but it is great to see.”
Roach also indicated that students are running together and creating friendships that otherwise would not have been probable.
As with any elementary school program, there has to be prizes. Roach said after students run the equivalent of one marathon they are rewarded with a shirt donned with the number “26.2”. Students with two marathons under their belt get a bracelet, a patch for three and dog tags for four.
Along with this, Roach holds inter-grade competitions as well as class and individual bouts. Classes compete for who can have the most miles, and the winner gets a popcorn day on Friday of that week. Individuals can battle for “lunch-in-the-gym” day and extra recess if they are the top milers.
“Right now the fiercest competition is with our second and third grades. Second grade has 2,063 miles, and third grade has 1,293. It has been fun to watch as third grade tries to catch up, and second grade tries not to let that happen,” Roach said.
In what started as a long shot program to get kids active, Marathon Kids is doing the unthinkable. With almost 100 percent participation in reach, Roach is poised to get more children fit, confident and, above all, active.