Woodbury’s Healthy Kids Running Series turns exercise into fun for all ages.
Run, skip, hop, roll; it’s not about the finish but instead about the “get-up-and-go” that a kid can put in as a runner for nonprofit youth running program Healthy Kids Running Series. For Robert Selb, the community coordinator of Woodbury’s Healthy Kids Running Series, it’s also about the smiles kids get when they cross that finish line.
“Basically, Healthy Kids Running’s concept is a ‘run in a box,’” says Selb, who is currently in his sixth year with the program. Though his first three years were working as the community coordinator in Littleton, Colorado, Selb said his focus is just the same; “In the beginning, half the kids are scared; parents are walking them down the shoot,” he says. “By race five, 90 percent are running to the start line with giant smiles on their face, having fun, being cheered on by aunts, neighbors and friends on a beautiful spring or fall Sunday afternoon.”
There’s a new addition to the series this year. “We’re starting the Challenger Division to include all abilities,” Selb says of the new 75-yard dash event. “We’re not the Olympics or the cross country team. We just want all kids out there having fun.”
Some of the youngest runners in the group are still trying to navigate walking. “When the grass is a little bit longer, they trip over themselves. You get 15 tiny 2- year-olds lined up alongside each other. One will tip over, and the rest will follow,” Selb says. Although the kids may not run, he says he teaches them to “blast off to the moon” or “spin around like carousels” to help them experience the fun of stretching and exercise.
And the focus is truly all about fun—which means some weeks are themed, such as Hero/Princess Week or Neon Week. During each week, kids learn the basics, practice at home and celebrate their progress each Sunday, also known as race day. “On week five, we host a Parent Mile, so kids can watch their moms and dads run,” Selb says. “The kids absolutely love watching their parents race and seeing the reverse cheering is just heart warming.”
He and his wife, Brooke, are runners, and both are former teachers. “We were looking to give back to the community and started this when our oldest was 1,” he says. “The hardest part is finding sponsors and volunteers. My parents are out there helping set up and tear down most weeks. But seeing kids run circles around the adults or a parent running with their child on their shoulders is worth the work.”
“… Thank you to our volunteers, who are mostly family, who are out there every week setting up, tearing down, running the registration table, watching our kids and making sure racers are going the correct way on the course,” Selb adds. “We truly could not do this event every season without them. We have two nonfamily members who help corral kids as they cross the finish line who have been wonderful the past three seasons. We are always looking for more volunteers.”
Chelsy Meier’s three kids, Beckett (7), Ava (4) and Isla (2), have been part of the series for a few years now. “As a parent and a pediatrician, I am always on the lookout for opportunities for outdoor physical activity,” she says. “I have been heartened to see how Healthy Kids Running [Series] has continued to create a space for the important connection to nature and movement that is so vital for our children’s mental and physical health. The Sunday evening race timing gives a great rhythm to our day and is the perfect way to close out the weekend!”
A Healthy History
The Healthy Kids Running Series is part of a national program, which started in 2009 to combat childhood obesity. It’s currently implemented in 37 states, plus Puerto Rico and Switzerland, and it’s gaining traction. The community-based nonprofit organization provides inclusive five-week running series for ages 2–14 and works to get kids moving, feel accomplished and build self-esteem.
Woodbury’s Healthy Kids Running Series takes place at Middleton Elementary. For more information and to register, go to healthykidsrunningseries.org.