|By SIERRA DAVIS|
There are twelve and a half million children ages six to 19 in the United States who are obese, making them at risk for immediate and long-term effects on their health and wellbeing. In the past 30 years obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents, according to the CDC, putting them at risk for heart disease, diabetes, many types of cancer and stroke.
Patrick Sweeney wants to change that. A South Bay native, Sweeney is most likely to be spotted running along the Pacific Ocean in Manhattan Beach, catching rays and wearing nothing but shorts and a smile. On January 16 – his 36th birthday – Sweeney will veer from his ocean-side path and join an international team of runners on a 4 1/2 month journey.
Race Across the USA will bring together 12 top athletes to run across the United States to combat childhood obesity. Running the equivalent of 117 back-to-back marathons, the runners will be raising support for the 100 Mile Club, a movement that provides students the chance to run or walk 100 miles at school during a single school year. The goal is to teach kids life skills, goal setting and self-esteem while making physical activity a healthier habit for life.
Sweeney, who has been raising money for the club for the last four years, has seen first hand how it guides children toward a healthier future. “My nephews are part of the 100 Mile Club and seeing them excited about running warms my heart,” he said. “It is my honor to champion the cause.”
It’s clear that Sweeney is as fit as they come, having run at least 20 marathons and more than 50 ultras, but that wasn’t always the case. As a child, he battled obesity and while he loved sports, running wasn’t part of his life until his college years – a change that helped him transition into a healthy adulthood.
Curious to test his limits, he ran his marathon out of sheer curiosity, but didn’t considered himself a runner until his late 20s when he turned to running to find a bit of solace in a transitional period.
“I loved the freedom that running for hours on end gave me,” he said. “I found out about the Ultra Marathon and was hooked.” In preparation for the transcontinental run, Sweeney has toned down his racing habit to focus on endurance training and keep his mental game in check – a lesson he’s learned in his nine years of running.
“The most important thing for me is to go into the event healthy, happy and ready to run,” he said. “I try to live a life where I am prepared for whatever comes my way. I had my best 100-mile race when I signed up the day before. Hakuna matata – no worries.”
And while Race Across the USA is a timed race, finishing the 3,080-mile course is a victory in its own right. Runners may be considering the podium at the finish line, but Sweeney said everyone running is part of a team and he takes great pleasure in the success of his fellow runners.
“I’d be lying if I said I was not a competitive dude, but my priorities are to take it one day at a time, listen to my body, and most importantly to enjoy the people around me,” Sweeney said. “I love running but I love the people involved in the sport even more.”
Sweeney’s sunny disposition and no-fear attitude will be paramount in carrying him from Southern California to the east coast.
“I’m not fearful person. Fear is waste of my time,” he said. “Not that I am an exceptionally brave person, but I prefer to act out of love rather than fear.”
To young children struggling to make healthy choices, Sweeney encourages them to find the same bravery and embrace opportunities provided by the 100 Mile Club. “It’s a great opportunity to make friends, enjoy the outdoors and have fun,” he said. “The future is not written yet and it’s never too late to make positive decisions.”