To Dylan Parker and Justin Shoemaker, America’s Kids Run isn’t just a way to stay in shape. It’s also a school assignment.
Dylan and Justin, both seventh-graders at Northwood Middle School in Mead, are doing a research report on the Spokane event, which will be April 23 at Joe Albi Stadium. They attended a press conference Wednesday to watch the kickoff.
“It’s hard, but it’s fun,” Justin said of the run. “It could use more water stops, though.”
The event celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. During that time, America’s Kids Run has exploded from a Spokane-only run to something that’s held in more than 100 other locations worldwide.
“It’s the biggest kids run of its kind,” said Dan Petek, an America’s Kids Run organizer.
Runners ages 5 through 12 participate in the untimed event, which ranges in distance from a half-mile to 2 miles.
Middle school students are invited to compete in a timed 2-mile race.
The event began in 1986 as Junior Bloomsday, a shorter version of the 7.46-mile Lilac Bloomsday Run, but organizers changed the run’s name in 2001 to honor the military.
That first year, race founder Mike Erwert threw the run together in a matter of days, Petek said. To his surprise, more than 3,000 children signed up, forcing him to change venues at the last minute. Although freezing rain fell that day, almost everyone showed up to run, Petek said.
Participation peaked at 10,700 runners the second year, perhaps because organizers offered an incentive.
The school with the most participants per capita received an Apple IIE computer – a device that seems as antiquated as a horse and buggy today, but was hotly sought after in 1987.
Last year, about 3,500 runners took part, and Petek said he expects between that many and 5,000 this year. Although participation is strongest in Spokane, children of military personnel will take part in America’s Kids Run on 108 U.S. Armed Forces bases around the world May 21 and 22.
“The (military) kids are amazing,” Petek said. “They’re so excited. There aren’t many events really directed to them.”
Back home, Dylan and Justin have been meeting after school once a week to work on their report.
Luckily, race founder Erwert is Justin’s mom’s boyfriend, giving the boys access to a knowledgeable source.
Unluckily, that means Justin’s duties at the event aren’t limited to running and research – he’s going to have to help set up and clean up, too, Erwert said.
“We’re going to get some work out of him,” Erwert said.
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