Program for kids culminates in marathon just for them

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Joaquim Gardner-Gotera, 8, runs three laps around his street to fulfill his mile-long weekly quota.

"I run with my dad and my dog," Sammy Sweeney, 9, said.

Reagan Eckenrod, 11, tasted a grapefruit for the first time -- she liked it -- and Erika Vogel, 11, enjoyed eating her first orange.

The youngsters' experiences are part of the Kids of STEEL exercise and nutrition program that 170 students at McClellan Elementary School have been participating in since January. The program culminates Saturday when the students run in the Toyota of Pittsburgh Kids Marathon.

The mile-long race for kindergarten through sixth-grade students will begin at 10 a.m. at the Boulevard of the Allies between Stanwix Street and Commonwealth Place.

"Everyone is a winner," Jennifer May of the Pittsburgh Marathon said of the kids marathon in which parents and teachers may walk or run alongside the participants. A student does not have to participate in Kids of STEEL to take part in the run.

About 2,000 registrants are expected for the kids run, which is held the day before the Dick's Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon on Sunday.

The Kids of STEEL program, sponsored by Giant Eagle, is designed to promote healthy habits for children. It has two components: the STEEL Run and the STEEL Taste.

The STEEL Run encourages youngsters to run 26.2 miles over 18 weeks, with the final mile logged during the kids marathon.

The STEEL Taste encourages students to make healthier food choices by tasting, studying and sharing nutritious foods with their families, which can earn them a certificate of achievement from the program.

About 30 local schools are participating in Kids of STEEL, including schools in West Jefferson Hills, Upper St. Clair, Bethel Park, Mt. Lebanon, and McKeesport Area districts.

"I think it's awesome," Justin Liberatore, principal of McClellan in the West Jefferson Hills School District, said. "The kids do laps in school during physical education and at home and keep a running log.

"I can't wait to be a part of the marathon. They might be encouraging me to complete the mile," he said with a smile.

"It's a fun family activity because they can also run at home, and they sample the nutritious food at home that the program promotes," Marie Bartoletti, McClellan physical education teacher, said.

She gives the students time to run a mile a week at school, such as 10 laps around the playground or 18 laps around the gym. They also do 10 minutes of cardiovascular exercise.

The McClellan participants will wear shirts with the school's name, courtesy of its PTA.

"It's about being with friends and being outdoors and having fun," Sydney Moran, 11, said of the event, which she has run in for the past three years.

Gabriel Snyder, 9, is already espousing a winning attitude: "I learned that eating healthy is good for your body," he said.

A limited number of registrations for the kids marathon will be available from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday at the GNC Live Well Pittsburgh Health and Fitness Expo at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.

Fee is $20. No registration will be held on race day. For more information on the kids marathon:


Margaret Smykla, freelance writer:


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