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Running Leprechauns at Lynbrook

Lynbrook Elementary wins award for having the most students participate in the Marine Corps Marathon’s Healthy Kids Fun Run.

At the time, Chris Puddy couldn’t stop thinking about the finish line.

"I kept on thinking about when it was going to end. It seemed like it was going on forever," said Puddy. The Lynbrook Elementary sixth-grader was referring to the 1-mile Healthy Kids Fun Run.

Puddy and nearly 70 other students from Lynbrook formed the largest contingent of students in the race, and for the fourth year in a row, Lynbrook earned the Healthy School Award for having the most participants in the Oct. 30 Fun Run, an offshoot of the popular Marine Corps Marathon.

For winning the award, Lynbrook received a $500 check from Families magazine for the school’s physical education department, at a school assembly and awards ceremony last week.

"It’s kind of a legacy with the school. The kids get excited about it as they get older, they get fired up," said Sean Niehoff, physical education teacher at the school.

Lynbrook had 68 students in Grades 4-6 participate in the 2004 run. Students had to run a mile, an event that had been incorporated into the Lynbrook's PE curriculum since the beginning of the school year.

"We don’t make it seem like exercise. We try to package physical activity in a way where it’s enjoyable and fun, and they get a lot out of it," said Niehoff.

Still, when the day of the race came, butterflies set in, and students said they found the race to be a challenge.

"I thought first it was going to be easy, but it got sort of hard. Since people were cheering for me, I just kept on running," said Norma Garcia, a sixth-grader.

THE FUN RUN is offered in conjunction with the 30-year-old Marine Corps Marathon, so Marines from Quantico Marine Corps Base were on hand at the awards ceremony to lead the students in some exercises, and Miles the bulldog, the Marathon mascot, helped to pump up the student body. Other speakers, including Peter Sherry, track and cross-country coach at Herndon High School and the 2003 winner of the 27.2-mile Marine Corps Marathon, got the message of the Fun Run across: Exercise doesn’t have to be serious business.

"Running is a great thing. It’s something you can do the rest of your life," said Sherry. "On good days, on snowy days, on rainy days, it’s something I can do whenever I want."

Marathon race director Rick Nealis applauded the students’ efforts, comparing the school’s achievements to recent Super Bowl champion New England.

"People talk about the Patriots being a dynasty," said Nealis. "This is a dynasty. You are the school to beat."

Nealis started the Healthy Kids Fun Run in 2000, after watching the Summer Olympics in Australia, "to introduce kids back into track and field." The event drew close to 1,400 students from across the Washington, D.C., metro area in 2004, and will take place on Oct. 30 in 2005.

"If we can motivate the children, somewhere, maybe 2012, we may have a future Olympian right here," said Nealis.

Niehoff said Lynbrook’s PE Department, which includes two other part-time teachers, plans to use most of the award money toward a second set of pedometers for the department, to help students become more aware of how much they walk daily. Because of interest from younger students, the school also plans to open the race up to third-graders next year.

Sixth-grader Kennsy Reyes said she decided to participate because she had never run a mile before. After dying her T-shirt green along with the rest of Lynbrook’s students for the race, she said she definitely had fun.

"I think it was fun, because my friends were there, and people were cheering for me, so I just kept on running," said Reyes.

"I think I’ll keep doing it when I’m old, so I can be healthy," she said.