Penn-Trafford youth fitness program off to a running start

| Wednesday, April 9, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

When Kellie Walker decided to create a distance-running program for Penn-Trafford elementary students, she said, she hoped to get as many as 20 children to sign up.

As it turns out, there was plenty of interest. By the time the “Running Warriors” program launched last week, more than 130 students were registered.

The eight-week club, including children from all five Penn-Trafford elementary schools and Queen of Angels Catholic School in North Huntingdon, is preparing them for a two-mile run with elementary students from the Plum and Riverview districts on May 24.

“The numbers just continue to grow, and we're hoping to get more schools involved next year and more students involved,” said Walker, who teaches health and physical education at Trafford Middle School.

Walker's own children ran in a similar program developed last year by Jay Marston, a Plum High School social-studies teacher.

In the Penn-Trafford club, students meet every Monday afternoon for practices and for occasional Saturday morning runs at Boyce Park in Monroeville or Plum High School. The goal is to help the children work toward being able to complete a two-mile run without walking or stopping.

Kim Sarnowski, a Trafford PTO member whose 8-year-old son, Matthew is in the club, is volunteering by running with the children to help set the pace.

“I've always been trying to get him to go outside and play,” Sarnowski said. “He's so excited about it, plus a lot of his friends are doing it. He loves it.”

Running programs are on the rise in the region.

Through the Pittsburgh Marathon, children from more than 70 elementary and middle schools are enrolled to run 25.2 miles at school or at home over 18 weeks before doing the 1-mile Kids Marathon. Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood, sponsors a “Girls on the Run” program for third- through eighth-graders.

Though some parents might worry about the wear and tear from running on a growing child's body, doctors point to the lifelong benefits of exercise on a healthy lifestyle, said Dr. Aaron Mares, who works with UPMC Center for Sports Medicine and the Pitt Panthers football team.

The key, Mares said, is moderation. If a child is experiencing pain, he or she shouldn't push through it.

“We don't have studies that show (distance running is) harmful for kids, but we do know that moderate exercise is helpful,” Mares said.

Walker said the endurance her son and daughter built while running in the Plum club gave them a “competitive edge” in their youth sports programs.

“Running at every age is a great exercise,” Walker said. “It gets them up and moving. It gives them more energy.”

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or

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