photographs by Heather Simmons
Teaching children the importance of health, fitness, and doing for others is a gift that can last a lifetime. One Memphis family not only found a way to get fit, they found a way to give to the children of St. Jude at the same time.
Deana Hall, 43, is a stay-at-home mom of two. She started running 15 years ago and has participated in the St. Jude marathon and half marathon several times. Deana’s husband, Jimmy, a FedEx pilot, is also a runner. “We met while working out at the same gym,” she says. “He ran five miles on the treadmill next to me and when I asked if he was a runner, he said, ‘No, I just wanted to talk to you.’”
When they started dating, Deana was training for her second marathon. Jimmy would meet her halfway through her long runs to help her push through. “That’s how he got the running bug,” she explains. For her third marathon, he competed along side her.
Seeing kids helping kids
After becoming a mom, Deana started running in front of her house out of necessity. “The kids would come out and run laps in the cove while I went up and down the street,” she says. That got her thinking about a way to involve them in not only running, but also doing something philanthropic. In 2006, she came to St. Jude with the idea of creating a family fun run as part of the marathon. With the help of ALSAC, she registered her daughter’s junior kindergarten class at Evangelical Christian School (ECS) as a St. Jude Hero. Heroes set personal fundraising goals and use a special St. Jude fundraising website to track progress, send emails, and accept online donations.
Deana talked to her daughter’s teacher and together they came up with a program. They set up a mile track at the school and the children gave up their time at recess to run, working until they reached 12 miles each. For the last mile, they invited friends and family members to watch. At the finish line, an ALSAC representative handed out half-marathon medals to each child. Together, the children raised $1,300.
“Seeing kids helping other kids really makes my heart melt,” says Deana. As a group, the children found reward in running for the children who couldn’t run themselves. “God picked them to be healthy and they can’t take it for granted.”
When Deanna’s son started school last year, she decided to get both of her children’s classes involved. This time, teachers and parents ran along with the children and together they raised $3,500. Then they were able to complete their last mile on race day in the St. Jude Family Fun Run, which started in 2009.
Kevin Leathers, the St. Jude Heroes National Coach, says the Family Fun Run is a great addition to the St Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend. Entire families can run one mile together and finish inside AutoZone Park with the marathoners. “It’s a great way to expose your children to the positive energy of an endurance event and support St. Jude,” he says.
Leathers believes parents should lead by example to instill good exercise and eating habits. “Actions speak much louder than words and active, health-conscious parents are teaching valuable life lessons,” he says. “Finding an activity, like the St Jude Family Fun Run, involves the entire family and improves everyone’s health.”
To keep it fun, Leathers suggest picking different locales for training runs/walks. “Instead of the same loop around the block, try the Greenline, Shelby Farms, or downtown by the river,” he says.
Develop a plan for your family
The St. Jude Kids Marathon is another option for families with children under 12. In the weeks and months leading up to race day, kids will run all but one mile of a full marathon (26.2 miles) or half marathon (13.1 miles) at their own pace, keeping track using St. Jude’s Official Mileage Tracker. Then, on race day, they can run or walk the final mile with family and friends in the Family Fun Run, crossing the same finish line as the marathon and 5K.
With proper training over several months, an entire family can run/walk the one-mile Family Run, notes Leathers. The 5k is also in reach for most adults and children with a conservative, consistent plan of walking/running several times per week. Only those who are in good health and can run/walk consistently following a three-month training plan should attempt the half-marathon. Last year, 415 children under 15 competed in the Memphis Grizzlies House 5K and 114 participated in the half marathon.
For those shooting for the full marathon, you must be age 16 or older. “The marathon is a daunting proposition even for the well-trained. I would recommend running for at least a year and progressing through the 5K, 10K, half-marathon distances to avoid injury,” advises Leathers.
The Memphis Runners Track Club has a special running program for kids this fall, and each mile run can count towards the St. Jude Kids Marathon. Jeanine Watts, who has been running for 26 years, started the program seven years ago as a way to give back to MRTC and the running community (see sidebar).
Watts says there are exceptional children who can run distances further than what the program focuses on, but she wants running to be a habit and part of the child’s lifestyle for years to come. “The biggest fear with doing too much too soon is burnout,” she says.
For the children under 5, Watts focuses on fun through games and relays with cones, hula hoops, and bean bags. “It’s more like an obstacle course and at the end they don’t realize how far they’ve run,” says Watts.
The 6- and 7-year-olds also play games, but Watts works with them on form. The 8- to 10-year-olds get an introduction to speed work and a little competitive push. For the 11-13 year olds, sprint drills are key. “It’s all about competition with the older kids,” says Watts.
Last year, 175 kids showed up for the first training session and race day brought out nearly 300 participants. Everyone’s bib number is number one, and everyone gets a medal. “I’m a big proponent of getting kids moving and getting outside on Saturdays rather than playing video games,” says Watts, who also holds training sessions in the spring.
As for Deana, her goal is to get her children’s entire school involved this year. “It’s a neat experience for the kids and it’s just a win-win,” for everyone.