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Neighborhood news

Marathon kids reach their goal

They ran 26 miles, though not quite the way it's done in Boston.

By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN
Published May 18, 2007


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It was 2:30 p.m., and the children were ready for Bruce Andersen.

They lined up where the grass meets the sidewalk outside of the Bethune Recreation Center.

"We are the marathon kids and we finished the race!" they yelled in unison.

Not so fast.

Put off by rain, wildfire smoke and thunder and lightning, the four dozen children had managed to run or walk a little more than a mile a week for the past 26 weeks.

On Tuesday, they had one more mile to go in their drawn-out marathon, an effort by the nonprofit Hope Fund to encourage the children in its Wimauma afterschool program to set goals, think big and possibly, given the nation's obesity epidemic, lose some weight.

"Girls go first!" called Andersen, 66, a volunteer tutor in the afterschool program who started the marathon idea last year. He fell in love with running in his 20s when he became a New York City police officer.

A retired police captain, he now runs 25 miles a week. Plus he leads the short runs with the kids around the grassy ballfields at the park.

"This area's not the safest. They try to keep them in this fenced-in area, " he said before the lineup.

The girls pushed the boys out of the way and put their toes on the line. Elbows nudged bellies.

"Go!" Andersen yelled.

The girls took off at a sprint, a jostling of jeans shorts, pink sweaters tied around hips, a flash of white tennis shoes.

A few minutes later, Anderson said the word and the boys took off after them. Even by the time they rounded the bend and reached the baseball diamond, some of the children were walking, out of breath.

Many kept at it, no longer in clusters but spread out in a long, jittery line, snaking around the basketball courts on clumpy grass, cutting through the gate into the soccer field, looping around to head back the way they came.

No one timed him, but Anthony Ochoa, 10, was the first one across, sprinting through the finish line in his untied Air Jordans. He had blazed past his older brother and all the girls to finish in first place.

"I told everybody I was going to be the first person, " Anthony said after the adults slipped a medal with a blue ribbon around his neck.

Close on his heels was Lizbeth Reynoso, 11. Her medal came with a pink ribbon.

All the children who finished got medals, donated by Disney World, left over from a women's half-marathon and an inline roller skating competition. But the kids didn't notice or seem to care. They liked how the medals reflected the sun.

Once all the children were back, they went inside to get a new T-shirt and a pair of New Balance running shoes.

Before cutting a cake to celebrate, Hope Fund president Carla Miles told them that, just like the marathon, all their goals in life were possible if they approach them with the same determination.

"It might take a long time, but with one action at a time ... the next thing you know, whatever you want in your lifetime will come true, " she said.

In the back, Anthony took his new running shoes out of the box to try them on. His mind was on football, to be a professional football player.

As for Lizbeth, her goals were no less lofty: to be the best at everything she does.

Saundra Amrhein can be reached at 661-2441 or amrhein@sptimes.com.

[Last modified May 17, 2007, 07:11:45]


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