A WORLDWIDE campaign to get children up and running has found a permanent foothold in America.
Reaction to GO Run For Fun’s inaugural events in Texas last year was so positive that the UK-based organisation has set up a dedicated team to host the runs in the US.
This year the US team hopes to persuade 10,000 children from 17 schools to take part in one of the 34 runs in the Houston area.
“That’s our target but we could easily do 20,000 this year because the demand is there,” said Kathryn Shuler, Manager of Community Relations and Special Projects at INEOS Olefins & Polymers USA. “But this will be our first official year and we need to make sure we can deliver the high-quality programme that everyone expects from GO Run For Fun.”
The US team will also be charged taking the campaign to Chicago close to INEOS’ Styrolution and Technologies sites.
Almost one in five high school students in Texas are now classed as overweight. But GO Run For Fun is already helping to address that. Karla Klyng, the assistant principal at Alvin Elementary School in Alvin, Texas, told INEOS that 155 children – instead of the expected 65 – joined its Mighty Milers after-school running club after taking part in a GO Run For Fun event last year.
“The kids cannot wait to do GO Run For Fun again this year,” she said.
GO Run For Fun was founded in the UK by INEOS chairman Jim Ratcliffe, a keen runner himself who wanted to encourage children to run for fun – and get fit at the same time.
It has already been making inroads in the UK and mainland Europe where thousands of children have taken part in one of the hundreds of short distance running events. And now America, which knows it has a weight problem, is following in its footsteps.
“Fast food restaurants now list calorie counts for their menu items, and there’s focus at the government level that kids need 60 minutes of exercise every day,” said Kathryn.
But food is not the only problem weighing heavily on the minds of PE teachers in the US.
“They say video games are also a dangerous distraction,” said Kathryn.
Mary Meyer, a PE teacher at Longfellow Elementary in Alvin, Texas, told INEOS: “The kids are so used to playing video games that when they go outside to recess they just sit. They don’t even know how to run and play anymore.”
But the teams behind what has become the biggest children’s running initiative in the world believe that where there’s a will to succeed, there’s a way.
The US campaign has already won an army of inspirational supporters including 1000 metre champion Bernard Lagat, Olympic sprinter Wallace Spearmon and astronaut Mario Runco who took part in three Space Shuttle missions during the nineties.
Last year Wallace Spearmon, who is currently the seventh fastest runner in the world, attended several GO Run For Fun events in Texas. He told children how he had twice failed to win a place in his high school track team.
“It was only because of my father’s encouragement that I stuck with running and continued to practise,” he said. “It was hard but I worked at it.” Eventually he won a place on the US Olympic team.
To ensure the long-term success of the US GO Run For Fun campaign, it too has set up a charitable foundation.
The key initiative of the INEOS ICAN Foundation, which is a volunteer organisation for fitness and community outreach, will be GO Run For Fun but the Foundation will also facilitate INEOS Olefins & Polymers USA’s annual employee-driven, fund-raising golf tournament and provide grants for schools to extend the teaching of science, technology, engineering and maths in their classrooms.
The Houston Marathon Foundation is already an official supporter, along with Houston’s professional womens’ soccer team, the Houston Dash, which has sent insprirational ambassadors to the events so far this Spring.
“That way we can show kids that running is not only an inexpensive and fun activity on its own, but it’s also an integral part of so many great sports,” said Kathryn.
Many parents are also excited to help the campaign.
“Unfortunately some of our target schools don’t have as many parent volunteers as others,” said Kathryn. “And many of those are in areas where parents work more than one job to make ends meet. But it’s really important to help all parents understand the need to support good exercise habits in these areas.”
To help drive home the message about the benefits of running and exercise to the body and soul, INEOS will be producing informative leaflets printed in English and Spanish.
Events will be delivered to 17 public elementary schools in the the Alvin, Clear Lake and La Porte school districts this year, with 9 days of runs having already taken place in the Alvin School District this April.
But INEOS is already looking to the future, and has set its heart on attracting 15,000 children by 2017 and 20,000 by 2018. And with a team as passionate as it is, that should be easily achieved.
“I’m very excited about the opportunity to help motivate kids to be more physically active,” said Dennis Seith, CEO INEOS Olefins & Polymers USA. “Healthy, active kids tend to be better engaged, and more successful in school,” he said. “Being active in athletic activities also teaches the values of teamwork, accountability, fair play, and a drive for doing your best.”
One who seconds that is GO Run For Fun ambassador Bernard Lagat. “Running has provided me with a fantastic opportunity to travel the world,” he said. “But this campaign is more than just a fun run. It teaches children the importance of a healthy lifestyle.”