Waterbury Wins $120,000 For Kid's Marathon

Rod Dixon, right, a legendary runner who is both an Olympic medalist and the winner of the 1983 NYC Marathon, introduced a fitness program in Waterbury last Spring that helped the city snare a $120,000 grant today in Washington D.C.. Dixon is shown here with Mike Dalton, left, who helped the Dixon Foundation set up shop in Waterbury. Dixon is encouraging seven-year-old Cameron Raver to run the Kid's Marathon last year after Cameron was trampled at the start. When Cameron was unsteady, Dixon personally escourted Cameron the final mile to encourage the completition of the marathon. Photograph by John Murray

   Today, Mayor Neil M. O’Leary accepted a first place award at the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) for Waterbury’s Kid’s Marathon Program.  The Conference, held in Washington D.C., gave six awards to mayors of cities with outstanding programs that encourage healthy weight through balanced diet choices and regular physical activity.

   The grant awards were divided into small, medium and large city categories, with first place and second place awards given in each category.  In the medium city category, Mayor O’Leary and the city of Waterbury were recognized with the first place award for their collaborative efforts on launching the Kid’s Marathon Program with the Rod Dixon Kid’s Marathon Foundation.

   The $120,000 grant will support the 2014 Kid’s Marathon Program, a partnership between the YMCA, City of Waterbury, Department of Education, Boys and Girls Club, Police Activity League (PAL) and Connecticut Association of Schools, aimed at introducing the sport of running to youth ages 7-12, over a 12-week period and at no charge to the participants.

   “This award is recognition of the successful and innovative efforts of our city to fight childhood obesity,” Mayor O’Leary said.  “With the help of this award we will now be able expand the program to reach an additional 1,000 kids thus exposing 1,500 students to the sport of running, while also encouraging physical activity and healthy eating habits as a lifestyle.”

   The Kid’s Marathon Program is designed to target city youth lacking in physical activity and good nutrition habits.  Students run 1-2 miles, two or three times per week, completing a cumulative 26.2 mile marathon over the course of the program.  They also receive positive and practical guidance on nutrition that helps foster long-term healthy eating behaviors.  In 2013, the program’s first year, 438 students participated, with the culminating 1-mile run occurring at Crosby High School before a crowd of family, friends and supporters.

   “The Kid’s Marathon Program speaks to the collective impact and collaborative efforts our community has supporting youth through healthy initiatives,” said Jim O’Rourke, Executive Director of the Greater Waterbury YMCA.  “The YMCA is proud to be one of the partners that support this program.”

   The grant program is the result of a partnership between USCM and the American Beverage Association (ABA), to support and/or enhance mayors’ ongoing childhood obesity prevention programs in their cities.  It also includes a national public awareness campaign, and connects mayors with innovative, cost-effective strategies to successfully reduce childhood obesity in their cities.

   A total of $445,000 in grants was awarded to support both new and existing programs.  Dallas, TX; Denver, CO; Little Rock, AR; Monrovia, CA; and York, PA were also recognized for their mayoral-based initiatives.

   “Combating childhood obesity has become a top priority for mayors in their cities,” said Tom Cochran, CEO and Executive Director of The U.S. Conference of Mayors. “The best available science demonstrates that children with health problems related to overweight and obesity unfortunately not only fall far behind in school but also can’t compete in the workforce.  And that’s why we’re so proud of our partnership with the American Beverage Association, to support the pioneering strategies that Mayors and cities are coming up with to eradicate childhood obesity.”