Runners of the future: Area youth keep fit with cross country programs

Youth are running away with the idea of keeping fit and having fun with the two new cross country programs. One new program this year is called "Kids on the Run," which was started by Killdeer Elementary School physical education instructor Mary ...

Youth are running away with the idea of keeping fit and having fun with the two new cross country programs.

One new program this year is called "Kids on the Run," which was started by Killdeer Elementary School physical education instructor Mary Wheeling.

The other program is called "Elementary Cross Country" which began this year through the efforts of the Dickinson Park and Recreation Department.

Both programs joined together for one day of fitness and fun on Tuesday this week at the Gress Softball Complex in south Dickinson.

Wheeling started the "Kids on the Run" five years ago, but due to personal reasons was unable to facilitate it for the past couple years.


Wheeling brought it back now because she wanted to continue stressing the idea of making healthy choices for her students.

"I have about 37 students in it now," Wheeling said. "We are just starting our third week (out of six) and after the first meet the kids were hooked. They realize how much they have to practice and the goal for the program is to get everyone to be able to run a mile without stopping."

Unlike the other program, Wheeling's includes grades three through six. She connected with the Dickinson Parks and Recreation Department after reading about their program in the newspaper.

"For this meet I only brought my fifth and sixth graders who make up a little less than half the team," Wheeling said Tuesday. "We are hoping to have a meet Sept. 26 at the softball complex in Killdeer and have had our own meet in Dickinson besides participating in the one with the parks and recreation program."

"Kids on the Run" participants practice three days a week after school usually at a golf course because most are a mile long, she added.

"It's fun and helps me to get more in shape for basketball," said Killdeer sixth grader Lizzie Strommen. "I haven't been able to go a whole mile (without stopping) yet, but I want to go into cross country later."

Wheeling stresses for the students to meet their own personal goals more than anything.

"Running can improve their concentration in the classroom and I hope they have fun with it," Wheeling said. "We hope to have five meets and will go to Mandan next, then have a home meet in Killdeer, another in Dickinson and one in Minot. The final meet is in Williston on Oct. 5, which is like a big celebration and the kids get to go to the McDonald's Toyland."


The meets follow Killdeer Public High School girls and boys varsity and junior varsity track meets. Wheeling said the older athletes are good to the younger generation, a few even have siblings in the groups.

The meets usually have varsity boys and girls run then junior varsity and the elementary are sometime in the middle of the meet, she added.

Many parents get involved and are glad to see their children participate.

"I have one parent volunteer, Pam Kukla, who has really donated her time and helps me at all practices and meets," Wheeling said. "She has two kids in the program and is also a teacher at the (Killdeer) school. I can't be at both the end and beginning of a heat so she had been really good with helping me and the students."

Kukla is an English teacher at Killdeer High School, but coaching is a new hat for her.

"I've never coached before, but my son Christopher is a sophomore this year and runs. He got his start running in the 'Kids on the Run' program," Kukla said. "Now I have my other son Matt in fifth grade and daughter Amber in third grade in the program. We love the sport and it's doing wonders for the kids."

Kukla is there at every practice and meet with Wheeling and the runners. She sees them improving with every stride.

"One student couldn't run a lap when he first started, but now at this last meet in Dickinson, he was able to finish the race. You would have thought he won a marathon," Kukla said. "Everyone was cheering him on and anyone who runs knows how hard it is to finish. It's cool to see how the kids support each other."


The "Elementary Cross Country" program started this fall, but is only for fifth and sixth grade students who have come from elementary schools in the greater Dickinson area.

At this week's past meet with the Killdeer students, fifth graders ran half a mile while the sixth graders ran a full mile. Ribbons were given to all kids ranked one through 20 and the rest got participant ribbons.

The goal is to keep kids fit and having fun, but also prepared for participating in cross country activities in the future.

Dickinson High School cross country members and Dickinson State University cross country runners have volunteered at the last two meets by helping cheer the youth on, hand out ribbons and keep track of youth.

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