Hands rose and questions flew.
“How fast can you run?” asked one kindergartner recently at Hayes Elementary in Fridley.
“I can run pretty fast,” answered Katie McGregor, a professional runner with Team USA Minnesota. She can run a full marathon in about two-and-a-half hours.
McGregor was one of 11 Team USA Minnesota runners to visit Hayes and Stevenson elementary schools earlier this week as part of the schools’ 5K Kids in Action program. The new initiative is designed to teach kids the importance of being active and will culminate in a five kilometer run on May 19 at Commons Park.
McGregor, a long-distance runner who says she typically runs about 100 miles per week to train for her global events, offered inspiration and tales of her travels to the attentive group at Hayes Elementary on Wednesday. Then she joined the children in some free-form gymnasium running to help them begin their training.
Former Olympian Carrie Tollefson was also part of the two-day campaign, as were a slew of Olympic hopefuls who could wind up representing Team USA in this year’s Olympics in London.
Life Time Fitness helped to organize the event. Life Time is a major sponsor of Team USA Minnesota.
"This is a great opportunity for the team to connect with the community," said Pat Goodwin, founder and president of Team USA Minnesota. "When Life Time Run asked the athletes if they were interested in participating in this school program, they were all excited about the chance to connect with kids about the importance of fitness and living a healthy lifestyle."
Karin Beckstrand, a music teacher at Hayes Elementary and part-time Life Time Fitness employee, got the ball rolling from the school’s end. Kim Gardner, a Stevenson Elementary physical education teacher also jumped on board.
“This started as kind of a wild thought between Kim and myself,” said Beckstrand. “We both do an after-school power hour where we try to keep kids moving rather than sit at a desk for another hour after school.”
Beckstrand said the idea of expanding the physical activity and organizing a race came naturally. Both schools follow the International Baccalaureate program which emphasizes that kids should be active at home and in the community. The teachers saw the running initiative and 5K race in May as a perfect complement to that philosophy.
“We thought we could get the kids to take action in their own life and be healthy, and also be active in the community,” said Beckstrand. “The money raised through the 5K fun run in May will be split between the schools and used within the community.”
Helping local charities or investing in school equipment were mentioned as possible uses for any funds raised through the race.
There are about 1,100 children taking part in the program between the two elementary schools. The kids will be encouraged to stay active both at home and while at school. Special programs will take place at the schools during recess and other times when the kids will be able to accumulate points for laps to help them build up to the race in May.
The 5K run will take place at 9 a.m. on a day in May at Commons Park in Fridley. The event is open to the public and will also feature entertainment and other activities.