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Ready to Run

The month of January elicits thoughts of new beginnings, resolutions and fresh starts. Often those resolutions of change involve exercise, and rightly so as we tend to indulge a bit more than normal during the holidays! While our own personal goals set in January may wane as the year progresses, one local organization strives to make healthy living through running a way of life every year for New Orleans’ low-income youth.

In 2010, five St. Bernard school teachers were inspired to start a grass roots running club with 40 children from their respective schools. None of the teachers had competitive running backgrounds, but all enjoyed the sport and believed it could be accessible to all children, needed little equipment other than proper running shoes and could provide unlimited positive benefits. And they were right. That same year, the Young Leadership Council adopted the program as one of their signature projects by providing seed funding and an extensive volunteer base.

Focusing on fifth through 12th graders, Youth Run NOLA now partners with 32 schools in Orleans, Jefferson and St. Bernard Parishes. Runners train twice weekly and participate monthly in city wide races of 5K, 10K and half marathons including the Crescent City Classic and Rock N’ Roll Half Marathon. “This past year being in Youth Run NOLA, I’ve accomplished a lot. I ran my first half marathon with my dad, and I’ve become more of an athlete because of it,” said Miles, age 11. From its first steps, the program boasts an impressive 800-plus youth involved and last year logged an incredible 8,329 miles run.

Many youth in our region – and especially those in lower-income communities – lack consistent exposure and access to healthy options in their daily lives. A staggering 21 percent of children ages 10-17 living in Louisiana are obese and only 34 percent of youth 6-17 participate in regular vigorous physical activity, which can lead to long-term physical and mental health problems. Youth Run NOLA aims to eradicate this deficit through running but also through healthy relationships participants develop with the supportive peer network and positive role models of coaches and volunteers. “I wanted to reach communities that didn’t have the opportunity to lace up,” says board member Elly Lane. “Their coaching power was infectious and I was hooked and determined to make this program work.” Strong relationships built between the diverse group of volunteers and youth runners happen because they experience challenges and rewards together – running side-by-side. The whole family also has an opportunity to become involved through the Youth Run NOLA Family Council by participating with administrative support and cheering sections at races.

Joy and pride from meeting goals occur naturally at Youth Run NOLA, but additional outcomes are tracked through analysis of physical activity hours, time spent with supportive mentors and youth surveys conducted at the start and finish of each year. Work has begun on a pilot program with a local hospital to try monitoring each runner’s health statistics for medical data on the physical benefits. Executive Director Denali Lander says, “I truly believe running (and walking and jogging) can help unify our community … everyone can be a runner and everyone can belong to the Youth Run NOLA family.”

Youth Run NOLA envisions replicating the program throughout New Orleans with the goal to have every child know of the program – an exciting concept to make healthy living through running a way of life.

A little more …

Become a volunteer or walking/running buddy at an upcoming race, and don’t miss the 504K Youth Run NOLA Fundraiser sponsored by St. Thomas Health Community Health March 18, 2017.

For more information call 256-5523 or visit YouthRunNola.org


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