Saturday, June 09, 2007


NUMBER 271 crosses the finsh line, HURRAY!

I am awakened with sleep hunger at 8 o'clock. I am still paralysed by some delayed action of sleep when I plead with Fule to call me from his cell in ten minutes, to make sure that I actually get out of bed. Faithfully, he calls. Maureen picks me up at 8:32. Actually we leave at about 8:45pm to York University in Toronto- east. There kids from at least 8 schools and several districts in Toronto are competing with themselves and against each other to finish a 5 kilometre race. This is a race they have been training for the whole school year in their Reading and Running Clubs, birthed by Canadian marathon star Silvia Ruegger and offered through Kids Fest Canada. This unique program is Silvia's response to the needs of inner city children in the elementary grades and supports them as an after hours school program, with goals which include success at reading, goal setting, team building, mentoring and fitness. Of course they are also watching out for the kids who show real promise at running to support them in the development of their talents.

I first met Silvia at Mosaic, a Christian prayer ministry run by ex-CFL star Brian Warren who is a pastor and the founder of KidsFest Canada. Then I heard Silvia at the Eden Mills Community Centre where she spoke about her Reading and Running School Clubs for boys and girls in a dynamic and insightful presentation, which included her own path as a marathon runner and a video clip showing her amazing eighth place finish in the very first women's Olympic marathon ever. Silvia is intense, passionate, a pace setter with a heart for the children. Her goal, to keep hope and possibilty alive in the eyes of the children. Her Canadian record, set at the Ottawa Marathon in 1984 at 2:30:37 is still unbroken, more than 20 years after. It was the very first marathon she run in competition.

This Saturday, the very air was static with excitement and anticipation. One could almost see sparks of electricity here and there as the kids were urged on to finish the race, with Brian's voice booming over the loud speakers while dozens of volunteers run here and there fixing everything up. There were loads of trophies, photo ops., freezies, bouncy castle-kind structures and a large white reading tent. In the tent I told West African stories to the kids, (this is the Afroculture connection) working hard to hold their attention against the smell of barbecued hamburgers, the anticipation of the mighty bounce in three or four castles set up not too far away, and a delightful tee-shirt decorating activity. The individual winners went home with great gifts, the Sony thing called Wii and several boom boxes. The event was supported by City of Toronto, Scholastic, Running Free Sport and Brooks among several others. Willow P.S. of Guelph won the team first place. Go Willow, Go Guelph. (I couldn't resist that.)

What a success!

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