Healthy Kids series draws littlest runners

Sommer Lockhart (right) and Amber Vogel kicked off the Moorhead area’s first Healthy Kids Racing Series this year. The second five-week series starts Sept. 15 at Gooseberry Park.

Nancy Edmonds Hanson

The littlest runners in Moorhead and the surrounding community set the pace for the second Healthy Kids Running Series – a national program introduced here by two local women.
Moorhead’s second five-week schedule of Sunday runs begins Sept. 15 in Gooseberry Park. With courses scaled down to fit the young runners’ ages, the matches begin at 3 p.m. They range in length from just 50 yards for 2- and 3-year-olds to a full mile for those in 4th through 8th grades. An inclusive 75-yard race is also planned for youngsters with special needs.
“My running partner, Amber Vogel, and I heard about the program last year,” says Sommer Lockhart. “We thought it sounded like fun. We both have daughters, and we’re interested in children’s health. This is an easy, fun way to get children involved. It’s always easier to show than tell.”
Healthy Kids Running Series was founded ten years ago in Pennsylvania by a former collegiate runner and sports marketer. Today the series take place in 230 locations from coast to coast. Moorhead is the fourth Minnesota community where volunteers have established local races. So far, none takes place in North or South Dakota.
Sommer and Amber volunteered to put together a local program in time to launch its first series at M.B. Johnson Park last May. Some 75 children participated in the inaugural event. The women expect to match or exceed that total in the series that starts this month and wraps up with a final race and awards ceremony Oct. 13. Runners accumulate points each week; top scorers in each age group receive trophies, while everyone gets participation medals.
Education is part of the program. “Volunteers work with each age group,” the coordinator explains. In addition to stretching before their runs – or, in the case of the youngest, playing games to loosen up – the children learn lessons that will carry them through a lifetime of healthy exercise. “Good sportsmanship is one of the biggest things,” Sommer says. “They learn to try their best … to never give up … to play fair … to support and cheer on their fellow runners.
“A lot can be learned just from participating and being active,” she adds. “The best part? It’s super fun.”
Parents are encouraged to step back, rather than shadowing their offspring’s every move: “Before signing up, they need to make sure their child can race on their own. Mom and Dad aren’t supposed to follow their kiddos. We have eight to ten volunteers who encourage them, offer guidance and sometimes run alongside them.” She adds, “Sometimes you don’t really know if your child is ready until they try it. They’re welcome to try a first race and find that out.”
Sommer is enthusiastic about the way early lessons can set the pace for the rest of life. She was an active athlete in basketball, volleyball and track at Northern Cass High School and went on to compete in track and field at Concordia College. Her fellow coordinator Amber is involved in ultra running and trail running. “I’ve always enjoyed running,” she reflects. “It’s such a good way to stay healthy and in shape, and it’s so relaxing.”
The coordinators encourage participants to pre-register online at the link on the “Healthy Kids Running Series – Red River Valley” Facebook page, but walk-ups are also welcome on the day of the first event. The cost of $10 per race or $40 for the entire series includes a T-shirt and snacks.

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