By VICKI JONES
After completing his first Ironman, Darren Van Soye co-collaborated to create a 100-mile running challenge to raise money to combat childhood obesity. Now he is gearing up once again to pair his passion for running with a social cause. Beginning in January of 2015, Darren, along with 11 other core team members, will lead a foot-race and carry a message across the USA. Their purpose: to raise awareness of the childhood inactivity epidemic in this country, and to share their passion for running as a possible solution. I caught up with Darren to get some details about the Race Across the USA.
Give us some background on Race Across the USA
The Race Across the USA is a footrace scheduled for January 16 through June 2, 2015 (140 days). Our cause is childhood fitness. All proceeds for this event will go to 100 Mile Club® – a 501(c)(3) organization. The running distance from California to Maryland will total 3,080 miles. There will be 12 core team runners who will run across the entire country. There will be up to 20 runners in each one of the states or a portion thereof. Runners will run stages that are approximately 26.2 miles (a marathon) long and participate in expos with students and the local community to get the word out. The event will start in Huntington Beach, California and pass through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and finally Maryland. On June 2, the runners will finish the day at the White House in Washington D.C.
What are the goals of Race Across the USA?
According to the CDC, childhood “inactivity” has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. At the present time, 18% (or almost one in five) children, aged 6-19 in the United States are obese. Children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults and are, therefore, more at risk for adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer and osteoarthritis. The goals for the Race Across the USA are three fold: a) Raise awareness about the epidemic of childhood inactivity in young people, b) Raise funds to sponsor students who cannot afford the cost of qualified activity programs and c) Inspire children to make vigorous physical activity a consistent part of their daily lives.
What will take place during the school visits? How will you present the epidemic to children and raise awareness about how to combat it?
We plan several types of school visits. At one end of the spectrum, we might simply run past the school and give the kids a “high-five”. With others, we may attend an assembly, make a short presentation and perhaps run a few laps with the kids in their school yard. At the other end of the spectrum, we have the “expo” concept where we organize an event with multiple schools. My feeling is that kids already know that they are supposed to be active. I’m confident that when they see what we are doing, they will get inspired.
Let’s assume that most kids are pretty active during their daily recesses. Apart from these short periods of physical activity, what strategies could you promote to support healthy children?
The reality is that kids are not as active as you would think. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that young people aged 6–17 years participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily. However, some estimate that just half of our school-age children are meeting this standard. Let’s face it, unless you can present kids with something that is really engaging they just won’t do it. While there are many very good programs out there, we need one that’s cheap, easy to implement and compelling to kids. This is where 100 Mile Club® comes in.
What about the role of parents?
The truth is that elementary and middle school students spend approximately 7 hours at school every school day. If kids are in after-school day care, the amount to time left for physical activity shrinks even further. When you add time for a bath, dinner and homework, there’s really very little (if any) time left. This is not to say that parents don’t have a role. They most certainly do. They can (and should) set a good example by getting exercise themselves. They also have a huge role in the food they prepare and the portions they make available.
Each child has an individual challenge. But is it also important to make them feel like they’re part of a larger campaign? Something that extends beyond their school, their state and even their country?
Absolutely! And this is why we are so supportive of the 100 Mile Club®. The 100 Mile Club® challenges kids to run (or walk) 100 miles in a school year. If you think about it, there’s approximately 180 days in a school year, so this is very do-able. During the Race Across the USA, we are challenging classrooms to run across the USA along with us. While they won’t be physically on the highways with us, they can run as a group and challenge themselves to accumulate miles together and run the equivalent of the country (3,080 miles) with us at the same time we are. A classroom of thirty or so kids running approximately a mile a day each should be able to keep up with the Race Across the USA athletes. With any luck, we will have our route across the country added to WorldWalking.org. We are hoping that this simple challenge will be the spark of something that lasts into their adult years effectively turning the tide of childhood (and eventually adult) obesity.
I heard that the 100 Mile Club now has programs in Canada, New Zealand and Japan. Any thoughts on racing abroad?
A recent study of 188 countries showed that nearly 30 percent of the global population, or 2.1 billion people, are either overweight or obese. Not a single country has lowered its obesity rate since 1980. So, we are not talking about a U.S. only problem. It is worldwide and getting worse even in the developing world. Depending on the success of this event, I could see other races in the future either here in the U.S. or abroad.
You’ve organized this large-scale campaign with the health of American children in mind. But do you have any personal goals or thoughts related to the race you’d like to share?
Though I’m very much involved in the planning and promotion of this event, I am also on the core team of runners (who are running across the entire United States). So, yes, I do have a personal goal of challenging myself and pushing my limits.
I’m not a runner myself, but how can those who are get involved? Is there a way for us all to track your progress?
There are several ways to you get involved. One is to let your runner friends know about this event. We have events as short as 2 days (Race Across Louisiana) and as long as 22 days (Race Across Texas). We have also designed four-day events that have been schedule around weekends for those who can only get a few days off work. The other way is to give. All proceeds raised go to the 100 Mile Club®, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. And, yes, you can follow us several ways. First, we have an interactive map on the home page of our website. During, you will see a tiny runner who will move left to right across the USA during the race. We will also be using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to document our journey.
Thanks for spreading the word about Race Across the USA. Anything else you’d like to add?
Yes. We would like to challenge everyone to get at least 150 minutes of moderate to intensity aerobic activity every week. This could be brisk walking or running. When we start our run across the country, find a route on http://worldwalking.org and get started! There’s a short video about our journey.
Darren Van Soye
Co-Race Director, Race Across the USA