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PS 178 students run to promote physical ed.

After weeks of training, the young runners took their place at the starting line in Cunningham Park Friday, leaning forward with anticipation as the blustering wind whipped their bibs and threatened to steal the crepe paper finish line.

Clad in colorful garb that ranged from running shorts and shoes to blue jeans and jackets, the pint-sized racers leapt into action at a signal from physical education teacher Steven Sontag. A few teary-eyed racers had to walk the final yards hand-in-hand with their trainers to cross beneath the billowing arc of balloons at the finish. But everyone finished and everyone won first place in the race, the PS 178 “Kids: I Did It!” run.

“They’re all No. 1,” said Susan Yang, a PS 178 parent and organizer of the event. “It’s not the time that matters. It’s that they finish. They’re all winners."

Some 152 children attending pre-kindergarten to sixth grade at the Holliswood school participated in the “I Did It!” run, a fund-raiser for the PS 178 Parent Teacher Association. With a registration fee of $5 per child, the event raised more than $500 after expenses, Yang said, which means the school also came out a winner.

The PTA will most likely use the funds to purchase books for the school library, said PTA member Leslie O’Grady, who added that the school is relying more and more on fund-raising and donations to pay for non-core programs and supplies.

“Now that they’re cutting back [the budget] drastically, we need a lot of those donations,” O’Grady said.

Divided by age group, the kids ran distances ranging from 100 yards for the tiniest tykes to about 1.2 miles for the fifth and sixth graders.

Sontag said students prepared for the run for three weeks by running increasing distances during P.E. classes and learning about stretching, breathing and running strategies.

Aside from raising money, the race also had a goal of raising kids’' awareness about exercise and healthy habits, organizers said. The number of obese children has doubled in the United States since the 1970s, and last fall the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention labeled obesity a national epidemic.

CDC director Jeffrey Kaplan blames the increase on Americans eating more calories and exercising less each day and noted that as children are watching more TV and exercise less at home, schools are simultaneously cutting back on physical education classes. About 13 percent of children are “seriously overweight,” according to the CDC.

Worried about such trends, educators and fitness-conscious parents like Yang are hoping to make exercise a fun and daily part of children’s lives.

“Usually children, they don’t like to run. But we have pushed them to a point where they feel they are rewarded to run,” Yang said. So the final goal of the race was simply: have fun.

Third-grader Amanda Gonzalez wore a broad grin after her first place finish.

“It’s fun ‘cause I like running,” she said. Glancing at the new, blue athletic shoes she received for her birthday, she added, “especially when I wear these shoes, it makes me want to run.”

Her mother, Betzy Gonzalez, encourages her children to enjoy exercise and competition at a young age Her 5-year-old son, Thomas, also ran in the fun-run.

“They like it because they get to compete and they feel like they’re athletic,” Gonzalez said. “My little one, Thomas, he says he’s going to the Olympics and he’s going to win a gold medal. I say: go for it!”

Reach reporter Patricia Demchak by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.

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