Healthy Kids devise a stride with pride

Community Coordinator Elizabeth Ford led the eager group of second- and third-graders to their first race’s starting line.

Photo by Tina Garceau

As she set off an air horn late Sunday afternoon to send second- and third-graders on a half-mile run, Elizabeth Ford beamed with pride, with the youngsters’ eager limbs and positive attitudes leading her and supporters to cheer every quest for the finish line. Gorgeous weather and gregarious interactions at Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park, Broad Street and Pattison Avenue, helped the participants in the Healthy Kids Running Series to have an amazing opening session, with four more gatherings scheduled through May 15.

“There’s just so much potential for fun and growth here, and that’s wonderful to encourage,” Ford said from the recreation site’s picnic area 18. “The children with us today are taking a great step toward being more confident in themselves, and what a beautiful day for that to occur!”

The Girard Estate resident is marking her first season as a community coordinator for Healthy Kids, a 26-state entity that helps pre-kindergarteners through eighth-graders to “adopt a healthy and active lifestyle, help increase their self-esteem, and make new friends,” as stated on its website. Enthused about helping the organization to establish an identity in South Philly, she had the task of finding a welcoming expanse for their excursions and needed no time to tab FDR Park as the winner.

“It’s the most spacious green space, and it gives the registrants a chance to cover some great ground,” Ford said as her young son, Vincent, who last year ran in the Havertown-based Healthy Kids offering, watched some of this season’s 65 youths as they bore looks of determination. “I’m already proud of their efforts and can’t wait to see how they mature.”

She and the excited groups had been slated to open a week before, but rain and snow from April 9 postponed their inaugural meeting. The children fit into five divisions, with the pre-K crowd handling the 50-yard dash, the kindergarten and first-grade pupils tackling the quarter mile, the aforementioned second- and third-graders going 2,640 feet, and the fourth- through eighth-graders testing their might by racing a mile. With everyone receiving at least one point through each endeavor, the thrilled individuals showed various levels of competitiveness, an outcome that Ford applauded.

“There are going to be some competitive displays, but those are not what the Healthy Kids Running Series is ultimately about,” she said of the Thornton, Pennsylvania-based brainchild of Jeff Long, founder and president of Pattison Sports Group. “It’s really about having fun and getting hooked on being active and energetic.”

With 35 locations, including ones in West Philadelphia and Roxborough, Healthy Kids has established a strong presence in Pennsylvania since 2009, and Ford has loved adding South Philly to the fold. Also a member of the South Philly Striders Running Club, she has made this practice her pursuit for more than 10 years and noted that when she has a race for which to prepare, she finds herself in a great state of mind. Such gravitation toward preparation may come to be another unifier for nine-year-olds Carmen Accardo and Nicholas Pandolfi.

“We’re both looking to have fun,” Carmen, of the 2400 block of South Lambert Street, said after he and Nicholas, his third-grade classmate at Philadelphia Performing Arts Charter School, 2600 S. Broad St., completed the half-mile. “I run around [Stephen] Girard Park, [2101 W. Shunk St.] so I wanted another location to become a better runner.”

He and his peer, of the 2400 block of South 13th Street, learned about the running series through their elementary school institution and immediately decided to join the fun.

“I’m kind of new to running, but I wanted to see how I could compete,” Nicholas said. “We were pretty excited to come out here today.”

The Girard Estate and Lower Moyamensing residents took to the course a little after 6 p.m., joining five other boys in their division. Onlooker Gus Infante, of the 1700 block of Bainbridge Street, had known he and Cosmo, his five-year-old Rottweiler, would see some sites within the park on such a pleasant day, but he had no idea that the series would make him want to return to his days as a runner.

“I grew up in Miami and have been here for 30 years,” the South of South inhabitant said. “I ran for a long time, too, so I really like that I’m seeing some future stars here.”

Pandolfi and Accardo could very well prove to be such dynamos, as they finished third and fifth in their group, earning eight and six points in the process. If they continue to display fine form, they could challenge for the title, a boon that will result in the endowment of a trophy to the fortunate fellow.

“There are so many positives to being involved with Healthy Kids,” Ford, who said children are still eligible to join, offered after the last group enjoyed fruit from the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market, with SkyZone, Nest Center City, and KIND Bars, who supplement the race with a sportsmanship program called “play KIND,” as other sponsors. “The biggest one is increased self-belief. Points in a competition are nice, but that boost in confidence is what they’re truly gaining.” SPR


Contact Editor Joseph Myers at or ext. 124.