How an Austin-based nonprofit empowers 240K kids nationwide through running

How an Austin-based nonprofit empowers 240K kids nationwide through running

AUSTIN (KXAN) — For nearly 30 years, Austin-based nonprofit Marathon Kids has helped introduce generations of children to the sport of running. But beyond acting as an early precursor toward building healthy habits, nonprofit leaders said it’s also helped inspire scores of children how to reach their potential while being part of a greater community.

“It’s a physical education curriculum that coaches can teach their kids or use to teach their kids either in school or before school, or after school in the form of a run club,” said Wendy Wheless, CEO of Marathon Kids. “It just teaches them the power of hard work every single day and tracking progress towards a goal, using the sport of running.”

And the proof is in the data, Wheless said; nonprofit leaders have studied student outcomes in the classroom among Marathon Kids’ participants and found that physical activity corresponded to better school performances.

But beyond the in-school settings, Wheless said the program is designed to give kids the tools they need to cultivate healthier habits and manage any anxieties more effectively.

“In this day and age, where social media and social media usage is so rampant, we truly believe that giving kids the empowering tool of knowing how to run and knowing that their body can run is a coping tool. It’s a coping mechanism that is something different than scrolling on your phone,” she said. “We definitely want to give kids that outlet to look for something with inside of them to cope with the stresses of daily life.”

  • For nearly 30 years, Austin-based nonprofit Marathon Kids has helped introduced generations of children to the sport of running. (Courtesy: Marathon Kids)
    For nearly 30 years, Austin-based nonprofit Marathon Kids has helped introduced generations of children to the sport of running. (Courtesy: Marathon Kids)
  • For nearly 30 years, Austin-based nonprofit Marathon Kids has helped introduced generations of children to the sport of running. (Courtesy: Marathon Kids)
    For nearly 30 years, Austin-based nonprofit Marathon Kids has helped introduced generations of children to the sport of running. (Courtesy: Marathon Kids)
  • For nearly 30 years, Austin-based nonprofit Marathon Kids has helped introduced generations of children to the sport of running. (Courtesy: Marathon Kids)
    For nearly 30 years, Austin-based nonprofit Marathon Kids has helped introduced generations of children to the sport of running. (Courtesy: Marathon Kids)
  • For nearly 30 years, Austin-based nonprofit Marathon Kids has helped introduced generations of children to the sport of running. (Courtesy: Marathon Kids)
    For nearly 30 years, Austin-based nonprofit Marathon Kids has helped introduced generations of children to the sport of running. (Courtesy: Marathon Kids)

Marathon Kids’ founding roots in Austin came in the footsteps of the Austin Runners Club, the city’s original running club that was established in 1974. About a year-and-a-half ago, Marathon Kids and Austin Runners Club merged, Wheless said, creating an epicenter of mobility and camaraderie among runners of all ages, backgrounds and capabilities.

That widespread community will be on full display Feb. 18, as the City of Austin gears up for one of its beloved annual traditions: the Austin Marathon.

RELATED: Runners raising money for Marathon Kids

On that marathon morning, more than 30 runners participating in the half marathon, full marathon or 5K race are fundraising to support Marathon Kids’ efforts. Wheless said the organization hopes to raise $30,000 through this year’s event, with more than $25,000 collected as of Feb. 8.

And Marathon Kids participants will get to see the action up close, with the nonprofit running the Mile 25 aid station alongside plenty of volunteers.

“Bringing the kids to that super exciting place and space where we’ve got spectators cheering on those runners that absolutely need it in the last mile — showing them that adults can do these hard things,” she said. “And [the runners] might not be looking very great at Mile 25….and seeing a bunch of kids, they’re offering free high fives? We’re so excited to bring them into that moment.”

While the Austin Marathon is the premiere running event in town, two races in particular are near and dear to Marathon Kids’ heart. The Zilker Relays at Zilker Park in September and the Daisy Dash in Sunset Valley in October each benefit Marathon Kids, supporting the nonprofit’s nationwide efforts.

Those looking to support the organization beyond race days can consider purchasing items from the partnership collection between Brooks Running and Dick’s Sporting Goods. Marathon Kids was named the beneficiary of the program this year, with up to $500,000 of proceeds heading back to the nonprofit to support its national efforts, Wheless said.

What began in Austin nearly 30 years ago has since reached children across the country, with more than 240,000 active participants.

“Show them what the running community is — show them that it’s more than just what they do at school, but that they get to be a part of something that is communitywide and something that they can experience for a lifetime if they choose to,” she said.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to KXAN Austin.