A Unique Florida Marathon—For Kids!

By David Wright for Take The Magic Step®

Uta and sponsor Ronald McDonald discuss running shoes. © Take The Magic Step®
Uta and sponsor Ronald McDonald discuss running shoes. © Take The Magic Step®

They crossed the finish line in wave after wave—more than 3,000 kids with triumphant smiles on their faces and eager to reach for the medals that marked them as winners. This inspiring and unique event—the hugely-popular Read-n-Run Marathon Mile—drew children ages 5 to 12 from 65 elementary and middle schools in South Florida on December 6th. And Uta, who was the honored Grand Marshall and inspiration speaker, was there to encourage and congratulate them on 26.2 miles well run!

It was a marathon with a difference. During the previous 16 weeks the dedicated kids had each run a closely-monitored total of 25 miles and read books for 15 minutes a day.

And now, to complete the program, they had to run the remaining 1.2 mile leg to finish their marathon in front of a cheering crowd on the eve of the Marathon of the Palm Beaches.

“When we started five years ago with a few hundred kids, I never dreamed it would grow into anything as big as this,” organizer Iva Grady told Take The Magic Step.

Ulrike Vernachio, Physical Education teacher and marathoner, brought 175 runners from South OIive Elementary school, some as young as kindergartners.

“I tell them when they sign up in August that they’ll all be winners when they finish in December,” she said.

“And this year they had a special incentive because I told them Uta would be there at the finish line. I told them what an amazing marathoner she was, and they were really excited to meet her.”

Proud school children before the run. © Take The Magic Step®
Proud school children before the run. © Take The Magic Step®

None more than runner number 2217—South Olive Elementary’s 6-year-old Tyler Lewis—who determinedly crossed the finish line with Uta right beside him.

“When I first heard about it, I thought, ‘I can’t run 26 miles,'” said Tyler shyly.

“Then teacher explained we just had to run a bit at a time. She told me, ‘you can do it’.

“I had a great time and I love running now.”

Uta admitted she was as thrilled as the kids. “To see so many little runners stretching for the finish line with the whole community cheering them on was such a wonderful sight,” she said.

“No matter if the child danced across the finish line or just made it, I saw their faces light up with joy at what they’d accomplished.”

“I love running now!” said Tyler Lewis. © Take The Magic Step®
“I love running now!” said Tyler Lewis. © Take The Magic Step®

“EVERYONE finished and every child won a medal and a book to read. What a terrific event! I don’t know who enjoyed it more—the kids or me!”

In what’s become a traditional ritual, the 3,000 young winners reported to their schools on Monday morning proudly wearing the medals presented to them by Ronald McDonald, and each one was individually recognized in front of their peers. Ronald McDonald House Charities sponsored the kids’ events, and Scholastic Classroom Books and Library awarded each child a book.

Said Iva Grady: “This is a glimpse of the future of road running—I’m already seeing children who ran in this event move up to the 5K, and they have so much enthusiasm I know they’ll be marathoners one day.”