As her parents cheered, Anna Claire Hensarling sprinted hard until her feet crossed the finish line. Though winded, the kindergartner beamed. She slipped on a medal that represented more than an athletic accomplishment. In the St. Jude Kids Marathon, hundreds of children aged 11 and younger turn out to help other kids. “Everyone loves and wants to help St. Jude!" she says.
Now 7 years old, Anna Claire plans to earn another shiny medal at next month’s race. Last year, 700 participants finished the Kids Marathon. Many young athletes support larger teams, and their fundraising efforts contributed to $8.2 million raised through St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend.
For youth, the path to the finish line can start months before the big day. Kids can walk or run 25.2 miles in the weeks leading up to race day, then run the final mile of their marathon with a grown-up on race day. Younger children have the option to participate only in the one-mile event on race day.
For the past decade, Holly and Drew Hensarling have participated in the race. Holly is a cross-country coach at St. Mary’s Episcopal School, where she sponsors a running club called Turkey Striders. “We promote wellness within our school community,”
So early on, Anna Claire joined her parents for after-school runs. She understood the importance of physical exercise, but it was a desire to help a schoolmate that led her to run for St. Jude. “She formed a bond with an older student who was a St. Jude patient and became aware of a bigger purpose for what my husband and I have always done. As a kindergartener, she asked to raise money through the St. Mary’s team,” says Holly. Soon Anna Claire opened a cookie and lemonade stand, selling sweets for a good cause.
“It is so important to teach our kids the value in helping others, setting goals and finding the determination to achieve them,” says Richard Shadyac Jr., president and CEO of ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “And we are so proud of Anna Claire and her peers for wanting to give back to their community by supporting St. Jude as participants in the Kids Marathon. Because of St. Jude Heroes who participate in and raise money for the St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend, and events like it, families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing, or food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live.”
Throughout the year, Anna Claire makes cards for hospital patients and prays for the schoolmate who linked her to the hospital’s mission. Before race day, she will log 25.2 miles, but the last mile will provide the real reward. “She knows what she is doing matters,” says Holly.
The St. Jude Kids Marathon helps teach kids the importance of a healthy lifestyle and helping others.
There’s still time to register at stjude.org/kidsmarathon
WHEN: Saturday, Dec. 3, at 1:30 p.m. (after the other races are finished). Start line is at B.B. King Boulevard and Madison Avenue, and participants finish at the official St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend finish line inside AutoZone Park.
HOW THE RACE WORKS:
Children must be 11 years old or younger and accompanied by an adult at all times.
Children can walk or run 25.2 miles in the weeks leading up to race day, then run the final mile of their marathon on race day.
Downloadable training plans and the official mileage tracker are available online to track your child’s progress at their own pace. Submit the signed tracker at the Health & Fitness Expo during race week, where you will also pick up your race packet, shirt, and participant bag.
There will also be a celebratory kids party with games, food, and fun at the Fogelman YMCA immediately after the race.
Families have the option to fundraise for the kids of St. Jude as well.