A passionate man, Rod Dixon implored students at North End Middle School in Waterbury to fully participate in the Kid’s Marathon program, and to bring the message of activity and health back into their homes.

                                                By John Murray

   Long-distance running legend, Rod Dixon, of New Zealand, was back in Waterbury Thursday morning to help kick-off the second year of his Kid’s Marathon running program in the city. Dixon won the bronze medal in the 1500 meter run at the 1972 Olympics, was a World Champion cross-country runner, and the winner of the 1983 NYC Marathon. Now 63, Dixon has dedicated his life to bringing his passion of running and healthy living to elementary and middle school students in California and Connecticut. In time, Dixon hopes his Kid’s Marathon program spreads across America.

Dixon’s program in California, and in other communities around Connecticut, is 100% focused on elementary school students. In Waterbury, with the encouragement of physical education teachers at North End Middle School, the program will also work with 13 and 14 year olds (a first for the Kid’s Marathon). One of the challenges in working with older students is that they tend to have already developed bad habits. When Dixon told students at North End Middle Schoolyesterday that part of the program involved minimizing their monitor time to two hours a day, there were a few facial reactions from the students.

   City Clerk Michael Dalton, an avid runner, was instrumental in recruiting Dixon to bring his program to the city, and last year more than 500 Waterbury students completed the program by running the final 1.2 miles at Crosby High School. The program lasts between 8-10 weeks and is supervised in school. The kids, mostly 7-12, run about three miles a week as they try to rack up a total of 26.2 miles  (the distance of a marathon).

    The goal of Kid’s Marathon is to educate children about nutrition and exercise and to lay the foundation for a lifelong commitment to health and fitness. The strategy is to empower the kids to make healthy choices.

   “Kids’ inactivity is the #1 concern of parents, “ Dixon said. “This concern ranked ahead of smoking and obesity. Our program gets the kids moving, and they love it.”

In the front row, from left to right,  John Chiero from the Boys and Girls Club, Jim O’Rourke from the YMCA, Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary and City Clerk Michael Dalton joined the North End Middle School participants for a group photo yesterday morning. Rod Dixon is in the upper right hand corner.

   Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary climbed aboard the program last year and helped the city snare a $120,000 grant at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington D.C. in January.

      “The grant award was 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 Kid’s Marathon program to reach an additional 1,000 kids, exposing 1,500 students to the sport of running, while also encouraging physical activity and healthy eating habits as a lifestyle.”