Even as the autumn weather rolls in, track and field stars from across the city tightened the laces on their running shoes for another New York Road Runners (NYRR) Youth Jamboree at Icahn Stadium on Randall’s Island on Saturday, October 16.
Best known for organizing the ING New York City Marathon, NYRR began providing youth programs to all city boroughs in 1998. Their running-based programs promote physical fitness in children, as well as character development and personal achievement in under-served communities.
One of their programs, the Mighty Milers, aims to help children from all communities enjoy the benefits of a fit and active lifestyle. The program, and others like it, are coordinated and run by parents and school officials, while the NYRR provides the resources.
At P.S. 253Q in Far Rockaway, Sophia Mighty (no relation to the program) has been running the Mighty Miler program at her school since last spring. She found the program online and brought it to the attention her principal, Robin Johnson, who encouraged her to pursue it. Mighty had 30 runners signed up for the program this month, and at the event she explained why she believes the program benefits students.
“It gives them great discipline and there is an incentive to work hard – as they cannot be in the program if they are not serious in other areas of their schooling,” said Mighty, who has competed in four marathons. “It also keeps them focused and allows them to get out of their neighborhood, which is pretty isolated geographically.”
Geemozz Jean Pierre, a highly competitive Mighty Miler from P.S. 253Q, competed in the 100-meter dash at the event.
“I love the wind blowing in my face when I run,” the 10-year-old said. “Last year I ran a mile without stopping and I definitely want to be a runner when I grow up.”
Running can also boost the confidence of children who might not seem like the quintessential runner. Mya Smithson is a 10-year-old Mighty Miler with asthma. She came in second place in both the 100-meter and 200-meter dash for her age group – an impressive feat for the fifth grader.
“I’m nervous at first, but then it’s exciting,” said Smithson, who said her siblings and dad are all involved in sports.
The P.S. 253Q Mighty Milers were presented with wool running hats hand-knitted by Heather Bergstein and Mary Lou Risley, with the help of a crew of volunteers.
Richard Reese, a physical education teacher at P.S. 197Q in Far Rockaway, started the Mighty Miler program at his school four years ago after meeting NYRR staff at a professional development training course.
“I knew it would be perfect for my kids,” said Reese. “[The program] helps build self-esteem, encourages camaraderie among students and is great for self-discipline.”
One of Reese’s runners, Kayla Vazquez, came to the event on Randall’s Island with her mother Almodovar. Vazquez competed in the 100-meter and long jump and is a Mighty Milers pro, earning four medals at last year’s event.
“I like to race a lot,” said 10-year-old Vazquez. “I love the 100-meter distance and definitely want to be a professional runner one day.”
Those interested in NYRR’s many youth programs should visit www.nyrrf.org or call them at 212-860-4455.