What’s the best way to get a youngster involved with running and hopefully maintain his interest in the sport?
Keep it fun.
So says veteran coach Jimmy Balmer, who works with athletes around the country.
The Yardley resident consults mostly with adults, but let’s face it, we all start out as kids, right?
Youth and exercise are timely topics these days because, as we mention here so often, our national fitness levels for all age groups continue to drop.
Following an active lifestyle can be a challenge for today’s up-and-coming generation because there is so much else going on that doesn’t require getting off the couch.
It’s safe to say that the responsibility starts with adults and their appreciation for their children’s health.
Running is one of the easiest ways to tune up a cardiovascular system and getting it working efficiently. That leads to weight control and a host of other benefits.
Still, Balmer says, the idea for those at an early age is to not take it all too seriously.
“They should really have a love for it,’’ said Balmer, whose daughter, Bailey, ran for some excellent Pennsbury High School teams several years back. “That love can be different for every kid.
“I remember doing the president’s physical fitness test in school and that kind of prompted me. . .I kind of realized, ‘oh, wow, this is something I could be pretty good at.’ Who knows, if not for that, if I could have ever figured it out.
“My dad was a 4:36 miler back in the cinder track days and he was still running when I was growing up. But the desire wasn’t actually there until I did it, and that could easily have been when I was in eighth grade but actually it was in fourth grade.’’
Lots of kids in the Bucks County area are currently training for the upcoming 21st annual Kiwanis-Herald Sesame Place Classic on Sunday, May 19, be it the 5K, the one-mile or the kids’ sprint.
For some, it’s their first chance to test their skills in an exciting competition.
A native of Texas, Balmer ran track in high school (Coronado/Lubbock) and college (University of Texas-Arlington). His best events were the 10,000 meters and the steeplechase in college, where he narrowly missed qualifying for NCAA Division 1 nationals.
He works for Barron’s Magazine, which has a headquarters in Princeton and that brought him to Yardley
His college teammate, Chris Strait, heads the coaching website “StraitSpeed.com’’ and that’s how Jimmy got into coaching.
Balmer is still active in running and has worked his way all the way up to ultra-marathons.
His running exploits were an inspiration for Bailey, who placed as high as 25th in the PIAA state cross country championships and was part of the several Pennsbury teams which took part in NXN national meets, peaking at fifth in the U.S. team standings her senior year.
Currently, coach Balmer is involved with the Yardley Recreation Board’s Memorial Day Main Street Mile on Monday, May 27. It’s a USATF-certified course. To register and for more information, visit “yardleymile.com.’’
No doubt there will be plenty of kids in that race, too.
Just finishing is a key aspect, says Balmer. When those youngsters are smiling, there’s a good chance they’re going to stay with running for a long time to come.
“It doesn’t really matter the sport,’’ Balmer said. “If they’re not going to enjoy it, they’re not going to do it. Kids try other sports, and running is a part of those.
“If they do find they’re really good at running, it’s because they’ve tried everything and realized this is the most fun. And when you figure out the most fun, then you’re usually going to excel.’’
11th annual Delaware Valley Duathlon, 9 a.m., Quakertown. Contact www.delawarevalleyduathlon.com
BucksFit 5K, 8:30 a.m., Northampton. Contact www.northamptonrec.com
Sunday, May 19
21st annual Kiwanis-Herald Sesame Place Classic 5K, 1-mile, kids’ sprint, 7 a.m., Middletown. Contact www.sesameplaceclassic5k.com