Teacher Robin Mounsteven has taken his love of healthy living and Port Sydney to the next level by creating a Kids Run Club, offering one-hour running sessions for local kids ages four to 11.
The club’s initial session ran the first two weeks of July with 30 participants, who were split into three age groups. Mounsteven got the idea for the club while teaching physical education at V.K. Greer Memorial Public School in Utterson. After seeing some of the lethargy and lack of connection with nature that followed the lockdowns and closures of the pandemic, he wanted to offer kids a new avenue for success. That led him to start a running club at recess, which got dozens of kids out on the trail.
“We would have 40 or 50 different kids out running the trail at recess,” Mounsteven said. “I wanted to extend that into the summer and give kids the opportunity to just start achieving some of their healthy active living goals in a place where they feel comfortable.”
Mounsteven is also the organizer behind the Mary Lake Marathon, which first launched in 2021. In its inaugural year, the marathon raised over $27,000 for a local three-year-old’s medical costs. The second annual event raised $6,500 for the kindergarten playground at V.K. Greer, which is where he’s now hosting the run club.
He sees the club as a natural extension of the marathon. Each of them combines his passion for running and working with children. He plans to continue offering the Kids Run Club and hopes to expand the idea into other demographics like older adults or people with disabilities.
“It’s all part of one big push to get people active and understanding their health and the power of it,” he said.
The sessions start with time for free play. Mounsteven sets out equipment like baseball gloves, skipping ropes, soccer balls and more so that kids can start warming up with whatever activity interests them. After that, the group gathers to start their daily discussion.
The group discussions focus on Mounsteven’s five Ps of running: positivity, pace, progress, perseverance and patience. They talk about one a day with the aim of getting the kids to think about their health as well as the way each concept can apply to other parts of life.
The runners then get into smaller groups for warm-up activities before going over trail safety and heading out for their run. Afterward, they stretch and reflect on what they achieved. He asks each of the runners to make a goal for themselves, whether it’s running-specific or not. For some, it could be a chance to build endurance, while others may simply be looking to make new friends.
“It’s a beautiful thing watching different kids get together, some who know each other, some don’t, but we all have this kind of common goal,” he said. “It came from this awesome place of just being active and talking about our health.”
The group celebrated the end of the two-week program with a barbecue on July 14. Along with offering the same games and activities they participated in throughout the two weeks, he also got families, sponsors and participants out on the 1.3-kilometre trail together.
“I want to bring everybody on to that trail to experience it because I think it needs to be experienced and utilized,” he said. “Those spaces are an absolute gift that we have living in Muskoka, and I want to showcase that.”
Their collective time on the trail was just one way families were incorporated into the club. Some parents volunteered to join the group and having parents there, running, struggling and persevering just like the students, helped inspire the kids even more, he said. Children are more apt to try when they see their parents doing it, and many of the kids brought the skills they learned back home with them.
“I’ve heard a lot of stories about how the kids have gone home and they got grandpa to go for a walk with them or they got their dad to go for a bike ride,” Mounsteven said. “That kind of healthy active living has transferred into their home life, so that’s really encouraging too.”
Julie Campbell saw those connections firsthand as her two sons participated in the run club. Jasper, 7, and Ollie, who is just shy of 6, both loved having Mounsteven as a teacher, so Campbell jumped at the chance to have her boys participate in the club when she saw that he was running it.
“He really is a really positive, encouraging person,” she said. “I’ve noticed too, just with the other kids in the club, if they ask him a question, he gets down on their level, looks them in the eye [and he’s] just really intentional about connecting.”
The daily discussions Mounsteven led with the group often continued at the Campbell family dinner table. They talked about the five Ps and their goals, which for Jasper was not having to be first while Ollie set out to establish a good pace for himself. Jasper has a natural affinity for running, she said, so it’s been a good outlet for him in multiple ways.
“He’s got a ton of energy, and so to have this in a controlled environment to kind of harness it in a positive way has been really good,” Campbell said. “He’s just more regulated when he can get his energy out in this really positive setting.”
Even though Ollie is less interested in running, the club has been a great experience for both of them, as evidenced by their clothing habits. Mounsteven had the runners wear their t-shirts to the club each day, but the boys don’t seem to want to take them off.
“My kids have been obsessed with these things,” Campbell said. “It’s really made them feel part of something. They’ve never really been on a team sport where they’ve had a jersey, so this has sort of that feeling.”
Campbell said she plans to continue enrolling the boys in the run club, and she hopes to get the family involved in future Mary Lake Marathons as well. She encourages other families to consider joining the group, even if they’re not confident about their running abilities. The club is accessible to all skill levels, so there’s no reason to feel intimidated, especially with Mounsteven at the helm.
“It’s also just been a great way to pace our summer, just to get us out in the morning, we’ve done that, and we can come home and reset,” she said. “If someone’s on the fence, [I would] encourage them to give it a try because it’s very doable and manageable, and it’s totally geared towards the kids.”
For updates on the Kids Run Club and the Mary Lake Marathon, visit the marathon’s Facebook page.