Kids of Steel program teaches Shaler children to get fit

| Wednesday, April 23, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

After finishing the 2013 Kids Marathon Downtown with his son, Brian Opiela decided to bring a program to Shaler Area Elementary School that would provide more families with the same opportunity.

This is the first year Shaler Area Elementary School is participating in the Kids of Steel youth fitness and nutrition program, which encourages students in kindergarten through sixth grade to try new healthy foods while completing 26.2 miles in 18 weeks, with the final 1.2 miles being the Toyota of Pittsburgh Kids Marathon on May 3.

“The goal is really to instill these lifelong healthy habits in kids.” said Michele Nichols, Kids of Steel program coordinator. “We wanted to teach the kids how to be healthy, and we have seen it affect the entire family.”

More than 100 students signed up through Shaler Area's Kids of Steel program, making their participation level into the top five for first-year schools, according to Kids of Steel program organizers.

Cosponsors Brian and Amy Opiela have met with students in the program through 12 one-hour training sessions during which students learn about healthy eating habits, proper stretches and running form as well as participate in practice runs and athletic games.

“We do fun activities and get a chance to run and learn to stretch our body and pace yourself,” said Luke Warren, a fifth-grader, who used what he learned during the Kids of Steel program to help him come in second in the Run for the Titan Trail 5K run on April 12 with a time of 22:14.

“I paced myself so I didn't burn up all my energy and breathed in and breathed out.”

Shaler Area students will join 3,800 students from 80 Kids of Steel participating schools at the May 3 race. A total of 4,500 children are registered for the Kids Marathon.

The 1.2-mile course will start at PNC Park in the North Side and end on the Boulevard of the Allies, just past Stanwix Street.

“I think it's going to be really fun to run in the city and see all the buildings,” said Jillian Sullivan, a fifth-grader who will run the Kids Marathon with her father. “I think it will be a good opportunity to see the city up close.”

Amy Opiela said the program has succeeded because of the support of the school district administration, teachers and parents.

“I think it brings a new energy to the school,” Amy Opiela said. “Everyone is excited about race day and excited about doing something together on race day.”

Brian and Amy Opiela will run the Kids Marathon with three of their children: fourth-grader Mady Kramer, third-grader Ethan, and kindergartner Andrew.

“You don't need to be fastest or slowest, you just have to be you,” said Brian Opiela of the program. “The kids are having fun, as you can see from the smiles on their faces. I can't wait to see them on May 3.”

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or

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