Medical Students Mentor the Next Generation of Runners with Kids’ Run Club

From left: Kirsten Weagle, Jenny Keenan, Brandon Scott, Emily Sheppard, Kerry Copeland (KRC coordinator) and Louis Martin.

For the past few months, medical students from Dalhousie University have been lacing up their sneakers to help coach Kids’ Run Clubs at schools across Halifax.

At Westmount Elementary, medical students Louis Martin, Kirsten Weagle, Emily Sheppard and Brandon Scott meet the school’s Kids’ Run Club (KRC) members at lunch time, guiding them through a warm-up and then outside for a 20-minute run.

About 90 kids at the school in Halifax’s west end take part in Westmount’s KRC. They gather popsicle sticks for each lap they complete around the block (they get a toe tag for every 20 sticks they collect). When they return to the gym for a cool-down, their medical student coaches share healthy living tips.

The KRC legacy

Sponsored by Doctors Nova Scotia, KRC is a free running program that has helped more than 17,500 kids and youth get active through running. There are groups at 220 schools across Nova Scotia.

Westmount is one of 14 schools that’s been part of KRC since it started back in 2004. Retired teacher Jenny Keenan is the school’s long-time KRC coach. She stayed on to manage the club even after she retired, now with help from medical student volunteers.

One of those volunteers is Kirsten Weagle, now a first-year medical student. She was a KRC member when she was a student at Hebbville Academy on Nova Scotia’s South Shore. “We would run laps around the school,” said Ms. Weagle. “It was a positive experience that wasn’t focused on being the fastest. If kids have a positive experience like that early on, they’re more likely to continue being active.”

Building healthy habits early

First-year medical student Louis Martin was also a KRC member, back when he was a student at LeMarchant-St. Thomas School in Halifax. Returning to the club as a coach has given him the opportunity to share valuable lessons.

“In medical school, we learn so much about how early lifestyle sets the standard for later lifestyle,” he said. “Building those habits early in kids is really important.”

Making fitness accessible

The club is especially meaningful for kids who don’t otherwise participate in organized sports or activities.

Emily Sheppard, a second-year medical student, points out that the program encourages all of the kids to improve their fitness levels, regardless of their starting point. “They see that they can go further week to week and they start setting goals with their laps,” said Ms. Sheppard.

She volunteered with Kids’ Run Club at Armbrae Academy in Halifax last year. “You get a variety of kids taking part and you don’t need special equipment to do it, so you get all ages and abilities participating.”

A chance to give back

Ms. Sheppard likes coaching KRC for many reasons, including that it lets her get out and be active for an hour between classes. But that’s not all. “It’s a simple way to give back,” she says.

Mr. Martin agrees. “It’s a great program that gets us out of the library and into the community.”

Running in the Doctors Nova Scotia Youth Run at the Blue Nose Marathon is a goal for some students at Westmount, but it’s not the only motivator. “Some kids are running as a fun way to spend their lunch hour,” said Mr. Martin. “It’s great to have a program that encourages them to get outside and get fit.”

Get involved

Want to start a Kids’ Run Club in your school or community? Parents, teachers, students and people who just love fitness can all become champions of the program. Coaches receive free training materials and ongoing support from regional reps who assist with program development and implementation. Here’s how to sign up.

Has your child participated in Kids’ Run Club? Share about their experience in the comment section below.

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