Healthy Kids Run in the Family

By Kipp Hanley

Allen Widdifield may have been born 90 years after author O. Henry created the fictional gunslinger “The Cisco Kid”, but the soon-to-be nine-year-old with the same nickname has become quite popular around his father’s Cisco Systems Inc. office. According to father Scott, Allen was the only child from his company that participated in the one-mile Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) Healthy Kids Fun Run two years ago. Hence the nickname the Cisco Kid.

Allen is an example of how running and exercising regularly is often a family affair with father and son and mother and daughter sharing more than just life lessons and bedtime stories. This year marks the third straight time Allen will participate in the one-mile run, which will be held on Oct. 28 at the DC Armory for children ages 6-13. It’s a perfect way for families like the Widdifields to bond and to realize the benefits of physical fitness.

“The primary goal of the Healthy Kids Fun Run is to encourage children to get fit, stay healthy and enjoy exercise,” said Rick Nealis, MCM Race Director. “I hope the run challenges families to make healthy lifestyle choices now that can last a lifetime. It is also a great opportunity to introduce children to the fun and energy of running, maybe even inspiring a future Olympic marathoner or MCM winner.”

Major Alex Hetherington, a veteran of 13 Marine Corps Marathons, has a laid-back approach to exercising when it comes to his four children. Hetherington “strongly believes that running needs to be a personal decision” and “only the inwardly directed person will have the interest and dedication to run regularly.” Still, there is no shortage of competition at the Hetherington household. Driveways races inevitably lead to a claim by one child that the race “wasn’t fair.” He’s also been told by each one of his children they intend to be great runners when they grow up.

Hetherington had a terrific athletic example in his own house while growing up in up-state New York. Hetherington’s father Bob, a life-long runner, shared his interest in running with his son. That passion for running is common among Marines like Hetherington, who serve as models of physical fitness and will be on hand to support young participants in this month’s Healthy Kids Fun Run.

Fourteen-year-old Dominique P., a Clinton, Md. resident who participated in the Healthy Kids Fun Run last year, also has terrific role models when it comes to running. Mother Carlita and father James were both track stars when they were younger, competing at the University of Maryland and University of Southern California, respectively.

Dominique grew up running with her father and often bicycles with her mother to stay in shape for a potential track and field or lacrosse career in high school. She also noted that she has become closer to her father since she started running and walking with him. The teenager’s passion for running hasn’t been slowed by asthma either. She wants to compete in the Marine Corps Marathon 10K this year and hopes to kick off a lifetime of physical fitness, just like her parents.

These families have experienced the many positive effects running or exercising can offer. Exercising with or promoting exercise to your children can:

• Create a bond between parent and child. It’s something you can talk about as a family besides schoolwork or social life.

• Create greater self-esteem. No matter how good your child is at a given exercise, if you encourage them to simply do it, there’s a good chance they will feel better about themselves and their bodies.

• Teach goal-setting. Regardless of what kind of student or athlete your child is, running or exercising on a regular schedule is accomplishing a goal.

• Be fun for both adult and child. In an on-line story in the July/August 2002 issue of Monitor On Psychology, author Kate Hays was quoted as saying: “what you need is the form of exercise that you experience as so satisfying that the issue of motivation drops out.” In other words, if you like doing something, there’s a good chance you will continue to do what makes you happy.

Active parents set a great example for children about the importance of a healthy lifestyle, encouraging kids to follow mom or dad’s lead.

• Make going to the gym a family event.

• Children learn by example. Instead of just encouraging children to take a walk or bike ride after school, join them. Or go for a jog at the local track as a family.

• Get other families in on the action. Challenge a neighbor or friend with similarly-aged children to a game a pick up basketball, touch football or softball. Make sure adults and children can all be included in the fun.

• Witnessing the fun of a sporting event can inspire children to get involved. When participating in a local running event, like the Marine Corps Marathon, bring kids along to cheer parents on and witness the great energy. They just might want to get involved the next time.

Help children get in on the exercise fun by registering for the Saturday, October 28 Healthy Kids Fun Run to be held at the DC Armory. Or, get started together on a fitness and exercise program by challenging older members of the family to complete the MCM 10K. Make fitness a family affair and pass the baton of a healthy lifestyle to the next generations.

Articles in the Health Kids Series are presented by the Marine Corps Marathon Healthy Kids Fun Run to be held on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2006. Registration is open until October 17 at  The one-mile run welcomes children ages 6-13. Kipp Hanley is the Marketing Coordinator for the Marine Corps Marathon. No federal or Marine Corps endorsement implied.


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