Small feet, far distances: Hundreds of students complete annual Let’s Move McAllen Kids Marathon

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling takes off with kids during the start of the Kids Marathon on Saturday Jan.19, 2019 in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

McALLEN — Among the hundreds of kids preparing to run the last mile of their marathon commitment at the McAllen Convention Center, 10-year-old twin sisters Yamaiah and Naileah Hessel were trying to recuperate from the 5K they ran that morning in preparation for the 2019 Let’s Move McAllen Kids Marathon.

Naileah has a passion for running and said that having her sister by her side makes it special.

“Running is just fun to do, but sometimes it gets boring and that’s when we talk and play a game of beating each other,” said Naileah, who finished the 5K in 32 minutes. “I like running with her because we look out for each other and with our earphones, listen to songs together and sing together and laugh together.”

She said that today they listened to Cardi B and Beyonce.

Yamaiah and Naileah were the first to finish the Final Mile of the fifth annual Kids Marathon hosted by the McAllen Independent School District on Saturday morning.

Their mom, Isabel Hessel, said that she has always taught her daughters about the importance of being active and eating healthy.

“Since they were 4, I have always had them running and working on their footwork,” said Isabel, who is a medical assistant at the Valley Internal Medicine Associates. “They keep up and motivate each other, and I am very proud of them.”

Both Yamaiah and Naileah aspire to play professional tennis when they grow up and said that they are inspired by American Olympic tennis medalist Serena Williams. Isabel said her daughters have the dedication and discipline to follow their ambitions, and is glad that it involves fitness.

“I get up in the morning for a run and ask them, ‘Who’s coming?’ and they both get up,” said Isabel, who also works in health and medical administrative services at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance. “They never say they are tired or say no. Diabetes is such a big deal, especially living here. It is just something I am trying to avoid, so when they grow older, they know how to take care of themselves and know what is right.”

Cynthia Ramirez, 2, reaches for her mother’s hand during the Kids Marathon on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019 in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

Runners took on the challenge of completing the marathon when they crossed the starting line of the Veterans Memorial Stadium track in September of last year, beginning the first mile of the 26.2 they promised to run. The kids had three months to document their miles, saving the last one for Jan. 19 to finish the way they started — as a community.

McAllen was the first city nationwide to receive the “All-Star Community” recognition in 2016 under former first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative. McAllen ISD’s health and physical education coordinator, Mario Reyna, said that after the award, the district was motivated to continue encouraging local students to make healthy choices and decided to start hosting the marathon.

“This was something to see how we could bring kids, parents and our community together to bring awareness of our obesity problem in the Valley,” said Reyna, who is also a member of the McAllen Kids Marathon committee. “…We all have one vision: how can we impact the community health-wise?”

Reyna also said that he hopes that the Kids Marathon motivated adults to pursue healthier living.

“This is not only about the wellness for children because it is also a reminder to adults that it is about them too,” Reyna said. “They have to be good role models themselves.”

After kids — and the parents who ran with them — caught their breath, families were invited inside the McAllen Convention Center for a Health Expo. Children with chunky medals hanging longer than their shirts continued to play on the empty street, showing no weariness from the mile they just completed.

Vianca Lara, 13, runs for the cross country team at her school and used the skills she learned from her coach in this marathon. She also proved much to herself.

“I knew how to breathe properly — in through my nose, out through my mouth,” said Lara, who attends De Leon Middle School. “I kept telling myself: ‘Don’t stop even if you get tired; don’t stop.’ I passed a few boys, so I am really proud. Normally I always get beaten by boys, so being able to pass a few boys was really cool.”

Jayden Gomez, 6, of McAllen gets ready to cross the finish line of the Kids Marathon on Saturday Jan.19, 2019 in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

Madalin Acantar is 8-years-old and plays basketball with a McAllen Boys and Girls Club league. She said that her basketball practices helped her throughout the marathon and that though it was still arduous, she persevered.

“I run for basketball, but this one was a little longer,” said Acantar, who attends Perez Elementary. “Sometimes while running, my lungs and kidney started to hurt, but I kept going.”

Support for the marathon has grown over the years. Local partners include the city of McAllen, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Telemundo and The Monitor.