Torrington KidsMarathon teaches fitness while having fun

TORRINGTON — For nearly a decade, Tim Gaffney has been bringing students from Litchfield County together to participate in Ron Dixon’s KidsMarathon, a fitness challenge for elementary school students.

This year, Gaffney expects another large crowd of students and their mentors to attend the event, now known as the Torrington Kids Marathon and scheduled for June 4 at Torrington High School.

The aim of the Torrington KidsMarathon is to help fight childhood obesity in children under 12 years old. “It has grown in the United States and around the world ever since.”

The KidsMarathon model is an 8-12 week school running and nutrition education program that allows children to complete a full 26.2 mile marathon by running approximately 5 miles each week. Schools receive an information package explaining the program and inviting students to register.

In addition to children from Forbes, Vogel Wetmore, Torringford and Southwest Elementary Schools in Torrington, this year’s participants include elementary school students from Region 20, formerly Region 6 and Litchfield Public Schools; North West Region 7, which includes the towns of Barkhamsted, Colebrook, New Hartford and Norfolk; and North Canaan.

Gaffney, a longtime sports journalist and owner and founder of Litchfield County Sports, a magazine and website, covered the KidsMarathon as a reporter and was involved as a volunteer when the event was held in Litchfield and was supervised by Dixon.

The event grew and eventually moved to Torrington in 2017. But during the pandemic Dixon, a New Zealand resident, was unable to travel; the 2020 event has been cancelled.

“He was stuck at home in New Zealand,” Gaffney said. “Ron is a good friend and we worked so well together. So when he couldn’t come here to do the KidsMarathon, he wanted me to do it. I said, if I do it, I have to do it my way. He agreed, and it’s been that way ever since.”

His “personal way” is simply an extension of the fitness program, to include as many children as possible. Last year, Gaffney estimated that more than 3,000 children took part. Increased participation has resulted in a need for more student mentors; Fortunately, Gaffney had no trouble finding more youngsters to coach the kids. His connections as a sportswriter and through Litchfield County Sports presented many candidates.

“The mentorship program is getting better every year,” he said. “We have athletes who have already graduated from Torrington High School, who come back and work with the kids. They love it. It’s just a great experience for all of them.”

Student mentors are often baseball, basketball or track and field athletes at THS, and they join and work with a team, do exercises, talk about healthy eating and similar topics, a he declared. Other mentors come from North West Region 7 and Forman School in Litchfield.

“This year we decided to take mentor teams to every high school that signed up. At Southwest a few weeks ago we had 300 kids waiting for us in the gymnasium,” Gaffney said. “We came in and caused a stir playing ‘Rocky’ music and getting the kids excited.”

After this grand entrance, Gaffney and the older students talk about healthy foods and drinks, asking the children which is better – Gatorade or water, for example – and whether a banana is a healthy food compared to potato chips. or a sweet snack.

“They make a game out of it, and that’s how we start to help them learn how to make those healthy choices,” Gaffney said. “It’s also a way for the mentors, the older students, to talk to the kids and learn how to speak in front of a large audience. From what I’ve heard, they’re all having fun doing it. “

Each week during the 12-week program, which began in March, high school students and graduates will travel to their schools to exercise together, aiming to run three miles a week. At the end of the program on June 4, each child will complete this marathon.

In the stadium at Torrington High School that day, each school will have its own registration table. T-shirts and medals are donated by local businesses, and volunteers help Gaffney organize teams for the closing race around the track.

“I can’t say enough about the volunteers, the kids, the teachers, the principals, everyone,” Gaffney said. “Everyone has supported him, every year.”

For more information, go to www.kidsmarathonfoundation.org/kidsmarathon.

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