How do you get a ten-year-old to walk away from a video game?
Ask them to run.
For five years, the suggestion has worked well for Middlefield's Jennifer Schulten, director and creator of the increasingly popular youth wellness program, Go Far.
"I have loved Go Far since the day I stepped on that field," says Ethan Kupec, a student at Lyman Elementary School who last year won second place in the 20 meter dash at his summer camp's olympics. "Imagine, in front of me is my whole life, and part of me is a really successful runner."
More than 500 students now participate in the program which focuses not on competitive running but on health and fitness during recess.
"The concept is so simple," says Schulten. "By the time the kid gets to 25 miles they are so hooked. I've had kids that get up to 130-miles. This year we have three 100-milers."
On June 16, the program's 5th Annual Go Far, Go Fast race will be held at the Durham Fairgrounds. The race has become the program's one competitive event which serves as a celebration of the achievements of the students who participate and even those that don't.
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"I like Go Far because it has a cool race at the end of every year," says Ben Carroll, another student at Lyman School, where Schulten launched the program.
Earlier this month, the school was one of five schools selected by the Connecticut Association of Schools to receive the 2012 Thomas Flanagan Student Activities Memorial Grant. The award recognizes an "exemplary school based on student activity programs that have made a significant positive impact in both students and their school communities."
Schulten is a former national champion rower and her husband, Chris, is a successful distance runner, bicyclist and triathlete. "He's a constant source of inspiration," she says.
As much as the kids enjoy running, Schulten admits that her idea of rewarding runners with tchotchkes — which range from small, oddly shaped figures to necklaces with colorful plastic feet — may be driving the popularity of Go Far.
"I also like it because you collect sparkly plastic feet and each is a different color and when you earn all of them, you get your marathon," says Carroll.
Schulten has a lot of help from the community, including her school leaders: Becky Finnerty and Janine Kozik at Brewster Elementary School; Paula Pietruska at John Lyman Elementary School; Kim Salley at Frank Korn. This year, with the help of Durham Fitness owner Kristen Kleeman, she also launched Go Far X, an after-school wellness program at Memorial Middle School that offers fitness obstacle courses and scavenger hunts.
"They're all in amazing condition," says Schulten, whose own enthusiasm for the program continues to grow as well.
"My next goal is to take my kids to a marathon, to show them what it's really like and one day maybe they'll be there running."