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Posted: February 27, 2009  : Add to Mixx!

Athletics: We Run This City Youth Marathon Program Successful on Many Levels

Program spurred significant increases in health of students

CLEVELAND (Feb. 26, 2009) – They came. They trained. They ran.

The results are in and the 2008 We Run This City Youth Marathon Program (WRTC) was a success in numerous aspects. Not only did the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K draw over 10,000 participants, it also provided 283 Cleveland Metropolitan School District 6th – 12th graders the opportunity to cross the finish line with professional and amateur runners, all the while becoming healthier.

Of the 283 students running on race day, 210 ran the 1.2 mile route specifically designated for the WRTC youth (the 26th mile in their two month training), 71 students ran the 10K (6.2 mile) portion of the race, and two brave students completed the half marathon (13.1 miles). This resulted in 718.4 miles run on race day, collectively.

“What is most impressive is the number of miles that the students ran in the 16 weeks prior to race day – over 10,000,” said Program Director Tara Taylor. “The training the children received in the months prior to the event resulted in a number of improvements, ranging from their physical health, self-esteem and lifestyle choices.”

The Center for Health Promotion Research at Case Western Reserve University, a WRTC program partner, plays an integral role in the program, performing the pre- and post-race day assessments for each of the youth participants. 2008 evaluation measures highlighted some of the following results: 35 percent of the children running the 1.2 miles were considered having pre- or hypertensive blood pressure prior to the program, as measured by NHLBI standards. Post evaluation results indicated a 10 percent decrease in hypertension with a drop to 25 percent, most significantly in the pre-hypertensive area, dropping from 22.7 percent to 13.6 percent.

10K youth participant results showed an even higher drop with, 42 percent pre- or hypertensive blood pressure prior to the training program, dropping to 23 percent post-race. Both categories experienced dramatic reductions of 5.2 and 13.8 percent, respectively.

Also improving was the amount of time the students could endure physical activity, increased strength, and a decrease in the fat content found in the triceps.

“Although the physical changes the students displayed are impressive, it is the changes to their self-image and their extra-curricular activity choices that deserve our acknowledgements,” Taylor said. “The children are getting better grades, experiencing better relationships with their peers, spending more of their free time engaged in physical activities rather than watching television or playing video games, and, above all, have an improved self-perception.”

“Each one of these improvements is a success in and of itself; but collectively, it’s an immense accomplishment for the program,” says Ralph Staph, Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon race director. “Providing an outlet for health and fitness in the community is the purpose for our marathon. We are quite pleased that outlet is available and beneficial to our children as well.”

Dedicated to encouraging healthy habits and exercise in Cleveland’s young people, We Run This City formative years began as a collaboration between the YMCA of Greater Cleveland, Steps to a Healthier Cleveland, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) and The Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon. The catalyst of the collaboration was the Cleveland Department of Public Health (CDPH) receipt of a multi-million, multi-year cooperative agreement from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention 2004 Steps to a Healthier US initiative to form Steps to a Healthier Cleveland. In 2005, the YMCA of USA joined Steps to a Healthier US. It was in 2006 that We Run This City Youth Marathon Program trained 81 CMSD 6th – 8th graders. The program participation rates have nearly doubled in size every year since 2006. With generous contributions from Steps to a Healthier Cleveland, the Medical Mutual of Ohio Charitable Foundation-The Cleveland Foundation, St. Luke’s Foundation, the Mt. Sinai Foundation, and the Ohio Department of Health, the WRTC program is able to provide programming for 500 Cleveland students.

In 2008, Dr. Eugene Sanders, CEO of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, and Glen Haley, CEO of the YMCA of Greater Cleveland, both participated in the race. Taylor says they anticipate that both leaders will be returning to the streets this May to support the youth. One of the participating students plans to invite Cleveland’s Mayor, Frank G. Jackson, to compete with them in the 2009 race on Sunday, May 17 in downtown Cleveland.

“This program is of the utmost importance to our community,” said Haley. “Health and fitness among our youth is becoming a large concern in Cuyahoga County, and having an outlet for these kids is going to be beneficial on so many levels as they grow to be the next generations of working adults. I truly enjoyed participating along side of the kids and seeing the pride they had for their outstanding accomplishments.”

The Cleveland Department of Public Health received funding from the Ohio Department of Health to expand the 2009 WRTC program to include a family component. Encouraging healthy behaviors for the entire family, parents of the marathon participants will have a unique opportunity to also join the marathon as they support their son or daughter in the program. As an incentive for their participation, the ODH funding will allow the YMCA to offer free three-month memberships in order to train for the marathon. For those parents participating, the son or daughter will also receive a three month membership to the YMCA. Parents will also have the opportunity to receive free running shoes and a Body Age Screening conducted by the YMCA.

Like most sponsorships, Steps to a Healthier Cleveland’s funding will expire later this year, and this means the program coordinators are scrambling to find other ways for students to participate in We Run This City in the future.

“What the program needs now is sustainability,” says Taylor. “We know that the program is succeeding, but we need to find a way for more and more of our city’s youth to participate.”

Taylor suggests several ways for individuals or businesses to assist in program sponsorship: help in promoting the program and their campaign with Clear Channel and Radio One, speak at one of the Business Council or Community Consortium meetings, or sponsor a student or school and follow them throughout their training. Any of these ways will help support the program, and, in turn, support a child in becoming a healthier adult, she says.

The 2009 WRTC pre-evaluation marathon activities have recently begun. Over 500 students took part in the pre-evaluation program and are expected to participate in the 2009 race day event on May 17. Training has already begun for the half marathon and 10K students, and training for the students who will run the last 1.2 miles on race day began February 23.

For further information on the We Run This City Youth Marathon Program, call (216) 263-6298. To learn more about the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K on Sunday, May 17, 2009, visit or call 800-467-3826.

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