A year and a half after conducting a Town Hall meeting at their 2010 industry conference focused on the obesity epidemic, Running USA has yet to put in place a children’s initiative that would either compliment or coordinate with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move, NFL’s Play 60, or NBA’s Get Fit initiatives.  Though a memorandum of understanding (MOU) has been floated to create a joint RUSA, USATF Foundation, RRCA initiative, to date, no consensus has been reached on implementing that, or any other such program. 

     It is classic running world paralysis, underscoring the deep divisions inherent in this most individual and turf-oriented of sports.  As RUSA President Virginia Brophy Achman of Minnesota has said, “While it is great that we all have thoughts and opinions, and I do embrace diverse perspectives, at some point we have to build consensus and move forward. “

     She is absolutely right.  Yet the passions in the sport run strong. And while that is a good thing, the existential division between road running and its default national governing body, USATF – which, given the state of that organization, shows no signs of changing – has led to a deeply rooted local event orientation, which in turn has made cross-event promotion and consensus an elusive target.

     This coming Tuesday another teleconference among RUSA board members will again broach the subject in an attempt to kick start a process which is quickly moving away from a sport whose mission and structure, at least on the surface, is perhaps best suited to address the growing national problem. 

                                                                              Remembering Chelsea, Rewarding Excellence

     Yesterday I attended the 2nd Annual Chelsea King Invitational Mile at San Diego’s Lindbergh Schweitzer School (how’s that for a political mash-up?)   The competition pitted qualifying third to sixth graders from around San Diego County in a series of mile races.  While everyone received a handsome certificate for participating, only the top five places won awards.  Fourth and fifth placers took home laces, second and third ribbon-strung medals, and first place earned a pure silver medal of appreciable value.

Mary Lou Baranowski

     Lindbergh Schweitzer phys ed teacher Mary Lou Baranowski organized the races to honor the memory of former Poway High School runner Chelsea King who was tragically killed last year while running near her home, and to promote the ideals Chelsea exemplified: athletic excellence, academic achievement, sportsmanship & community outreach.  Compared to the huge number of kids’ running events which focus purely on participation, and avoid timing much less rewarding excellence, the Chelsea King Invitational Mile was a welcomed throwback.

     “We had kids who were excited by their performances,” said Carmel Del Mar Elementary School volunteer Dave Dial.  “And we had kids who were disappointed with their results.  But that’s stuff you have to learn.  It comes with the territory, ‘live to fight another day’.

     “We have one Korean girl who doesn’t have great English language skills yet, but this really brought her out.  She went from thinking she couldn’t even qualify (girls needed a sub-8:00 mile, boys sub-7:00), to running 7:32 this spring, and 7:39 today.”

                                                                                Healthy Competition

     “Thank you so much for putting this on,” Milda Simonaitis said to Mary Lou Baranowski as the event was breaking up.  “This is such an important event.”

     When I asked Ms. Simonaitis, whose daughter Sonata ran, why she felt that way, she replied, “Not only to honor Chelsea King, but it’s a great way to showcase healthy competition. “

Brendan Santana heading to victory

     In the last race of the day for sixth graders, defending boy’s champion Brendan Santana of Carmel Del Mar caught first lap leader (and eventual fourth place finisher) Townsend Meyer of Dana midway through the race. Brendan’s 5:21 winning time scrubbed over 20 seconds off his time from last year.   The girls’ race was won by long-legged Ireland McCaughley of Dana in 5:44 as she finished fifth overall in a close battle with three boys.

Ireland McCaughley leads girls' race


It was fitting that this competitive mile event was run the week marking the 10 year anniversary of Alan Webb’s high school mile record at Hayward Field  in Eugene, Oregon in 2001. Alan’s 3:53.43 broke Jim Ryun’s 36 year-old 3:55.3 American high school record. 

Participation Certificates

     Perhaps this county-by-county, school-based format to qualify and then reward the fastest third to sixth grade milers in the nation is one way forward for RUSA.  There are plenty of participation-only opportunities for kids throughout the country in local road races.  As a truly new initiative, RUSA might consider reconnecting with the roots of our sport by fostering and celebrating excellence while encouraging participation. 

     Let us know how you feel, and we’ll bring those concerns to the teleconference on Tuesday.



  1. Good morning. My name is Roger Drews. I am co-race director for the CKIM and husband to Mary Lou Baranowski at Lindbergh-Schweitzer Elementary school. First, I would like to wish well to all those on this site who are doing something to promote fitness for everyone. That is a success in itself. That is where it all starts and that is where it all ends.

    I have been a athlete all my life. I have been competing for 35 years (and still competing). I have coached track, X-country, baseball, softball and given some individual fitness training. I have put on track meets, road races, multi-sport races and front yard obstacle courses for the neighborhood youth. I know a little bit about this area as does my wife. Mary Lou is an NBCT and truly puts her M.S. in Exercise Physiology to good use. What she does as Phys Ed teacher is truly inspiring (and heart pounding!). And we both put our heart and soul into making this a memorable event for all the participants, parents and spectators.

    I do have a message. And it is a simple one. Just do it. Don’t worry about politics. I see on this blog the misguided notion that we are going to “solve” the obesity problem if we just do this or exclusively just do that. Or if we go this way or that way. My oh my. People – just do it !

    If your event is competitive – GREAT ! If you event or organization is “participatory” – GREAT ! This is NOT a mutually exclusive situation ! That is ridiculous. Our focus is simple. Do as many events and get as much involvement as we can and spread the word ! That is how you do it. At our school (where I volunteer as co-track coach) we offer: 1) a general run club for everyone (everyday), 2) a limited track team (we can only take about 35 members for space and organization reasons) and 3) our special events. Mary Lou holds several events per year for ALL people to participate in. The most notable is the “Olympic day” event (coming up in June). Nearly the WHOLE school is in this one. It is an all day event! And beyond all of this each day Mary Lou gives superb heart pounding exercise to the student body !

    So, I must reject the notion displayed on this blog that it is either this one or more of that one etc., and that an event with winners will not help obesity. If you want to help obesity in America, that MUST start at HOME. Starting with parents, friends, neighbors and building from the home and outward. What we did with the CKIM event is get our WHOLE SCHOOL excited. We have more and more kids wanting to participate and improve! We immediately after the event had other kids who did not participate – come up to us and ask how they can. We have the school buzzing about this event EACH YEAR and this will only build from here.

    Mary Lou and I LIVE fitness. We are out there every day encouraging and spurring on others to be fit. Both adults and kids alike. So we are living it. We are living the desire to help people get fit and tackle the obesity problem in the USA. Now, there are genetic differences in people to be sure. However, what is missing from the people who broad brush this “obesity” issue is: SELF RELIANCE and SELF RESPONSIBILITY. Yes. People have medical issues to be sure. However, that cannot explain all obesity problems. Many people just need to “do it”. Take self-responsibility and self-control for their lives. Mary Lou and I reject totally the notion that because we can’t include everyone that we are detracting from the obesity problem. That is the implication on a post on this site and we reject that firmly and without apology.

    We have many alliances, friendships, and activities we are involved in pertaining to fitness. We have so many many wonderful people that have helped us with the CKIM event and other. And we make it a point to help our good friends who have events they produce for running or fitness that are “participatory” and not competitive – just to be there to encourage and if they need us to help. We do not care if there are winners or losers (or just participants). We just show up and do all we can and have a blast doing it ! If we all had this attitude the obesity problem would get better. There is no one easy answer to this serious problem of obesity. But the more people involved in ANY type of fitness event – the better !

    Next year, the CKIM will be bigger (our sign-up was 120% bigger than 2010) and better. We had a couple of small snafus that occurred from a production standpoint and we will work to solve those. However, what will NEVER change is the standards we have set for the event. This race is NOT ABOUT SOLVING OBESITY PER SE. This race is about HONORING CHELSEA and HER FAMILY. That will never change. This race was designed to emulate the wonderful characteristics that Chelsea displayed. I am sure that Chelsea did not win every time. And I am sure she did not care. She worked. She learned the losing is a part of competing. While every child got a nice finisher’s certificate (which was made with a lot of love by our wonderful secretaries in the front office), we will continue to have winners awards. And more than likely, the .999 pure silver medal the overall winners got this year, will be even bigger next year !

    And by the way. The event was NO CHARGE to ANY entrant. The event was totally free. The cost of the shirts and the sunflowers were all paid for from my wonderful wife’s efforts in a fund raiser. The awards were paid for through a can-bottle drive done by myself. And all our wonderful volunteers made it happen by taking time out of their day to make this event happen. The course is an accurate 1 mile flat mixed black top and trail. The trail portion required a huge amount of prep to get it ready. We also had plenty of water, ice, muffins, and Jamba juice. We also put together great guest athletes to inspire the kids, all of them – not just those competing, to get fit !

    Our event format will not be changing. The CKIM is NOT about solving obesity. To be sure obesity is a serious concern to us. But the CKIM is to HONOR CHELSEA and give a bunch of kids like her a chance to get out there and let it roll! That will not be changing. And events like this CAN and DO encourage more participation by everyone. And this is a good thing. And “participatory” events have their place as well. They also encourage others to get fit. So it is not a mutually exclusive situation and Mary Lou and I will keep on keeping on.

    Roger Drews

    P.S. I would like to correct a couple of mistakes made in the blog head that was posted at this link: https://tonireavis.com/2011/05/26/brilliant-concept-kids-racing/

    The SD Tri-club did not provide timing either last year or this year. That was arranged initially, but unfortunately the tri-club backed out at the last minute with no explanation. Which of course was very disappointing. The timing was provided by the wonderful folks at the San Diego Track Club. And we want to thank our wonderful friend Ms. Nancy Morris for being our official timer.

    We would also like to thank Toni for posting the kind comments about the event (minus the political statement about the school name). Thank you

  2. It seems to me that there are two separate issues here. One is the obesity problem this country faces, and the role that running might have in addressing that problem. The other is the concern surrounding the competition plateau. I agree that events like the Chelsea King Invitational Mile can help to encourage healthy competition and encourage the kids who might achieve competitive excellence. But I don’t think such events are the way forward in adressing childhood obesity. Kids who are struggling with their weight are not likely to take home prizes and accolades from an invitational race, and are going to be given the message that this sport is not for them. Kids who are not obese, but are not fast either (I was one of these), are not going to learn that there is a place in the sport for everyone to participate, even those of us who are never going to take home Shiny Metal Objects from races. I think both goals — promoting running as a lifestyle participation sport to help curb obesity and its attendant health issues, and promoting running as a competitive endeavor — are important and worthwhile; but I think it’s going to be important to pursue each individually and not try to come up with a “one-approach-fits-all” single program.

    And here I have to put in a plug for the Kids Run the Nation program — my running club (Sub 5) received one of the 2010 grants, which will allow us to continue the kids’ running program we started last year — we are grateful for the grant, and very excited about being able to continue to foster the next generation of runners in our area!

    1. Pam,

      Excellent reply. And just the kind of critical thinking I will thankfully take to our RUSA board teleconference on Tuesday. Thank you for Sharing your experience and insight.

  3. Michael,

    RRCA’s’ Kids Run the Nation’ is a fine program, but as it says, “The emphasis of this program is on participation and developing a healthy lifestyle as opposed to being a competitive running program.” The NYRR also has a comprehensive ‘A Running Start’ program, a free online coaching resource with 83 videos developed by New York Road Runners to help youth coaches teach the fundamentals of running through age-appropriate games, activities, and drills. My thinking is for someone to return HEALTHY competition to the forefront of our sport without losing sight of participation. It seemed to me the Chelsea King Invitational Mile did that quite well for a very locally run operation. I keep coming back to my old equation, KIDS & HEROES. We need to link the two.

  4. Claudia, RRCA’s been doing this on their own since 2007.

    RRCA developed the Kids Run the Nation Fund to assist (RRCA) running clubs, events, and schools interested in implementing or sustaining a youth running program. The grant program is funded by restricted contributions from RRCA members, individuals, foundations, and corporations. One hundred percent of the money raised is restricted to the grant fund. Grants are awarded on an annual basis through an application and selection process overseen by a volunteer selection panel.

    This year, a total of $10,000 will be awarded in during two grant periods in a combination of grants ranging from $500–$1000.

    Running programs who receive the grant should be a structured running program that ideally utilizes RRCA youth running materials. The goal of the program is to have kids running regularly, at least once a week for multiple weeks, as opposed to participating in a single event.

    The program should not be gender specific but open for both girls and boys. The program may not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, ethnic origin, or economic status. The program may outline age groups and may place a minimum and maximum age for participation.

    The program may focus on participation, competition, or a combination of both.

    The running program has adopted policies and procedures that ensure the safety of the participants and outlines expectations of the program leaders including submitting to criminal background checks.

    Kids Run The Nation Grants can fund marketing materials, advertising, website hosting, permits or fees for local park or running track use, hydration supplies, participation awards, mileage logs or other written materials, and other items the grant selection committee sees fit.

  5. Toni: Wouldn’t it be possible for RUSA to do this on their own, put together a format as you’ve suggested and move forward with it, make it happen without the USATF Foundation and the RRCA? There’s certainly enough talent among RUSA members, including the board, to create a program that can achieve success. Like the good folks at Nike say: “Just do it!” When I see acronyms like MOU my eyes start to glaze-over. You and Virginia are so right that everyone has their own ideas and opinions, which is why it is usually more efficient if you really want to get something done, to narrow the scope of personalities and egos involved, rather than, in an attempt to achieve a broad consensus, widening it. There’s never going to be agreement among all the parties as to the best way(s) to achieve the goal, so why not just go with something that looks like it could work quite well on a national stage (the mile races here in San Diego County) and make it happen?

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