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Running a marathon for kids

Angele Porier and Mary Jane Lasalla and Maeve Kenard sprint.

Angele Porier and Mary Jane Lasalla and Maeve Kenard sprint.

They gave their time on Columbus Day for the children. School was closed, yet student athletes came to Wilton High School for the World Marathon Challenge for Save the Children.

A total of 306 children helped raise $4,500 to be used by Save the Children for child-focused interventions, ranging from offering newborn care advice to diagnosing and treating preventable diseases like diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria.

The Wilton event, held on Fujitani Field, was a local version of the World Marathon Challenge, as 50,000 children in more than 60 countries are running worldwide. In the United States alone, nearly 12,000 children in 21 states and the District of Columbia are taking part.

In addition to running in the race, a World Marathon Challenge T-shirt was signed by students to serve as a petition to U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-4th District) to protect programs that help children around the world.

The format of the race was a relay, with teams running until they reached the marathon length of 26.2 miles. Each runner went for half a lap, handing a symbolic baton to the next runner. Students ran carrying footballs and lacrosse sticks as batons, among other items.

Jack Dexter and Jessica Brunner run one of many legs of Monday’s marathon

Jack Dexter and Jessica Brunner run one of many legs of Monday’s marathon

As students got ready to run, they were warmed up by Vince Workman, a former running back who played football at Ohio State University before being drafted in the fifth round of the 1989 NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers. Mr. Workman played eight years in the league, with stops in Carolina and Tampa Bay.

Since leaving the NFL, Mr. Workman has been a strength coach, a personal trainer, and a speed and agility specialist. His fiancée, Wendy Massaro, lives in the area and often works as a referee and coaches eighth grade field hockey. He lives in Stamford and has gotten to know some of the Wilton kids from working with them as a personal trainer.

“It’s a good cause,” he said. “Anything that has to do with helping out youth, not just in the United States but all over the world, I’m all for it. They are our future.”

Mr. Workman gathered all of the athletes on the football field for the warm-up, and soon had them doing calisthenics as simple as jumping jacks before leading them into stretches.

“It’s very important,” he said of the stretching. “Times have changed from when I was a kid, so they’re looking at different things now. Athletes are bigger, stronger, faster across the board in every sport, so you’re going to get more injuries.

“The great thing is that we’re more aware of the injuries and more aware of injury prevention. So I think it’s a great thing to try to prevent injuries. It’s obvious you can’t prevent all of them, but you can take precautionary steps to prevent them.

“Getting a proper warm-up is very key to athletics in general. If you’re just a weekend warrior, you need to warm up properly.”

He moved onto the track and served as the official race starter, lining up with the youngest runners. Liam Murphy, Lorenzo Caratozzolo, and Charlie Rosa each beamed with the chance to run against a former NFL member.

“I’m going to beat the football player,” they each said, laughing.

“Hang on now,” Mr. Workman replied.

Decked out in T-shirts of different colors, groups of athletes in red, white, gray, and different shades of blue gathered with teammates and friends. A great sense of community and pride was in the air, magnified by blue skies overhead on a day that started out crisp and cool before turning warm.

“It’s perfect weather,” Dan Baird said. Dan is the captain of the Wilton High School boys lacrosse team. He and his team joined with the girls lacrosse team and their captain, Hannah Wiltshire, to form a big unit for the race.

“We were really exited to give back to the community in such a positive way and such an interesting and unique way,” Dan said. “We’re all really excited about it.”

Hannah added, “We wanted to support this cause, and feel connected with the youth sports, so we wanted to come and show our support.”

Nick Murphy gathered cross country runners to be a part of the day’s events, and recognized this would be good for them.

I think there are so many children out there who are less fortunate than we are,” he said. “Today should be a lot of fun. We’ve definitely been training hard all season, so this is a day off for us.”

“Every child in the United States and around the globe deserves the very best chance to live a bright future, but not every child gets this chance, the chance to survive and thrive,” said Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children, in a statement. “Achieving this vision is not a sprint but a marathon — a world marathon.”

While Mr. Workman and the athletes were so prominent, a hard-working collection of volunteers and Save the Children representatives helped keep the day moving along. Face painting and activities were available for children who came out to watch, and a small but hearty group of spectators gathered and cheered the runners.

Honestly, we’re just so excited to see all of the youth sports come together for a day to run for kids, said Jennifer Kendra, director of cause marketing and partnerships with Save the Children. “It has been amazing. We’ve got some of the big guys mentoring the younger guys. We’re happy to raise awareness for Save the Children and understand that little actions can do a lot.”

Ms. Kendra is also the president of Wilton youth field hockey.

Ms. Kendra was asked by a young bystander to explain what Save the Children is.

“Save the Children is actually the leading organization around the world that is dedicated to serving children’s needs,” she said. “It crosses many things, from basic survival of hunger and nutrition to health care, livelihoods, as well as emergency and disaster response. Anywhere that there is a need or concern where children are at risk, Save the Children is there.”

Despite taking part in something that would stretch over 26 miles, the mood was good.

“I think we’re really excited,” Hannah Wiltshire said.” It’s fun because it’s a relay so we all get to run it together.”

“We’re becoming a part of a great tradition,” Dan Baird added. “It’s a great thing that is helping kids all over the world.”

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