Goodbye, Couch!

Published 4:36 pm Thursday, May 2, 2013

CUMBERLAND – A diverse and eager band of community members and Cumberland Public School students gathered on the middle school's front lawn last Saturday, April 27, for the first ever Cumberland Kids Get Off The Couch 5K.

Sixty-eight racers of varied abilities participated in the event, from the district champion runner to a crowd of first time racers.

And this is how it should be. The event was designed to encourage students to not only learn about, but begin practicing healthy habits, such as exercise. The point, as the title suggests, was to get kids off the couch.

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When one sixth grader was asked what he usually did on Saturday morning, he replied, “play games.” He went on to clarify. He wasn't talking about soccer or baseball, but video games. He is usually sitting on the couch. But, this Saturday, instead of sitting still, he came in second in his age division.

An eleventh grader and fifth grader each gave the same response. Saturday mornings equal video games. Last Saturday morning though, they both scored medals in their age divisions.

Another student usually uses Saturdays to catch some extra sleep. This morning, by 10 a.m, he had caught a silver medal in his age division.

It's true that growing minds and bodies do need their sleep. But, they also need their exercise.

The aim of Cumberland Kids Get Off The Couch 5K, a collaboration between Cumberland Public Schools and the Cumberland Public Library, was to teach students about proper nutrition and activities that benefit their health throughout adulthood.

The race was the culmination of a program funded by a UnitedHealth HEROES grant, awarded by Youth Service America and UnitedHealthcare.

One feisty fourth grader reported that he usually was outside, hunting, on Saturdays. When it isn't hunting season, he's “out in the woods.” He holds his fingers about six inches apart to show the size of a crawdad he once caught in the creek.

He also caught a bronze for his age division during the race.

But, of the students The Herald spoke with at the event, that fourth grader was the exception, not the rule. Most seemed accustomed to spending their Saturdays indoors.

None that we spoke with had ever participated in a race before.

But they all were out in the fresh air last Saturday and they all completed the 5-kilometer course, equal to 3.1 miles, which circled school property.

Of course, there were some students that ran who did have experience. The overall winner of the race, Matthew Horton, was also the winner of the James River District Cross Country Championship this year. He completed the course in 18:23 minutes.

Eager seven-year-old Ryan Rhoten, who finished in just over 50 minutes, the first and only in his division, followed and completed the same cross country course as the older and more experienced regional champion.

Several runners pointed out that they were pleasantly surprised by the course's route.

One student, the one who usually sleeps in on Saturday mornings, said the race was different than he expected. “I expected just to go around a track, but instead we went through the woods,” he said, commenting that he liked the scenery.

An adult racer said that although she has run other 5K races, she would have to diversify her training after running the course. During one part of the race she said she was running sideways along a hill, using a completely different set of muscles than usual.

Water for Saturday's event was provided by Diamond Springs Natural Spring Water. The National Guard also sponsored the event, providing water bottles for the participants.

Chip Jones, assistant superintendent of Cumberland schools, was in attendance and commented, “Our first annual Cumberland Kids Get Off the Couch went very well. I was very excited to see all the collaboration between the school division and the public library to offer such an event that inspires kids to get healthy.”

Jennifer Beach, director of Cumberland County Public Library, agrees that the collaboration worked well.

“It was a really good partnership, being able to work with the library and the school. The goal was to get the kids involved in the research on childhood obesity and also involved in actually getting physical,” she said.

Beach not only helped organize the event, but also participated.

“We definitely have to do it again next year. It was such a success,” Beach concluded.

The race was free to Cumberland Public School students and open to community members for a small registration fee.