Five years ago, Jesse Novotney ran his first marathon, and says it was such a life-changing experience that he decided to run another one, and another one after that.
Today, five-time marathoner Novotney works for Go! St. Louis, a nonprofit organization that encourages kids, adults and families to get moving for better health.
If they happen to be inspired to someday run a marathon, well, that is icing on the cake.
Novotney visited Rebecca Boone Elementary last Friday to kick off a new after-school club developed by Go! St. Louis: The Read, Right and Run Marathon program.
The K-eight program encourages students to read 26 books, right the community with 26 good deeds, and run 26.2 miles, the distance of a marathon, over a six-month period.
“That’s about a mile a week,” Novotney told students.
Students who complete the program become eligible to participate along with thousands of other youngsters in a race at St. Louis’ Forest Park in the spring.
During two assemblies Friday, Novotney got students on their feet to learn about the program, engaging younger students in a high-energy session of “Simon (Jesse) Says” that had them jumping up and down, turning around and waving their arms in the air. Older students ran a few laps on the playground.
“Do you think you could run from Warrenton to Mid-Rivers Mall?” Novotney asked students. “That’s the distance of a marathon.”
Students also got a short lesson in history during Novotney’s assembly session, learning the origins of the marathon. (The Greeks ran 26.2 miles to Athens to tell government leaders that they had defeated the Persians at the Battle of Marathon.)
Novotney, who leads the Go! St. Louis school outreach program, said more than 20,000 students from 250 schools participated in the program last year.
“Most of our schools are public schools,” he said. “We want to get kids focused on healthy habits for a lifetime.”
Kindergarten teacher Milissa Greene, who will be one of the program’s coordinators, told students the emphasis is on getting everyone involved.
“If you can’t participate here because of your parents’ schedules, you can do it at home on your own,” said Greene.