*Note: This essay was published in the Colorado Springs Gazette print edition on May 20, 2019. It can also be found online here, an image of the column is included below, as well as the text of the essay.

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I saw scores of sharks sprinting this past weekend right here in Colorado Springs, and that’s a good sign in such a sedentary society. We could all learn a lot from these little Landsharks.

For those without tiny tots at home, permit me to explain. The Landsharks Running Club is for kids in kindergarten through sixth grade in Colorado Springs (and beyond). In the fall, they run cross country over open terrain and trails, and in the spring they hit the track. My daughter is now a two-year Landshark veteran.

I still remember her first race as a kindergartener. She wasn’t really sure if she was there to chase other kids, stomp grass, or hunt bugs. But she huffed and puffed her way around Bear Creek Park (eventually) and when she finished, her toothy smile was as wide as an accordion stretched to the max.

Two years later, somehow, she still loves to run. Exercise is fun for her. To sweat. To be outside with her friends. Not just to win or to be better, but just because.

Her meet this past Sunday afternoon was at Harrison High School. Teams from all over the city’s western and southwestern parts were there: the Broadmoor area was in maroon; Mountain Song wore gold; Oak Creek in teal; Skyway in gray; and Manitou Springs wore the yellow shirts.

Mighty Manitou in particular, was smaller than the other teams in terms of numbers, yet was clearly the meet’s giant in spirit and performance. (Ahem, pardon the parental bias.)

After the National Anthem, the kids all ran an untimed 200-meter dash (halfway around the track), and then later, most ran a 400-meter race (once around the track).

With so many kids, I know it sounds like herding caffeinated cats, but somehow the Landshark coaches have devised a system that gets the whole thing done in a little over an hour (for which they should each receive some hybrid between a Nobel Prize in Physics and a Nobel Peace Prize).

And when those little legs are pumping across the track, from a distance, they resemble a pack of loosely organized, variably motivated, upright squirrels.

But they sure have fun doing it, no matter what. I saw a kid racing with a cast. Another with a brace. Some look like they just stole a cookie. One little girl looked up into the stands for half her race. Lane cutoffs are common, and some zig zag like they’ve had something significantly stronger than soda before racing. They have nearly no concept of pace, and go from warp speed to walking, and back, in the space of a few strides.

Of course, these Olympic City-dwellers aren’t ready for the Olympics yet, but they sure can show us the way to a great finish. The one constant I saw was that they were all smiling.

In short, it was everything super-coach Vince Lombardi would hate, and that’s a great thing—there was no single winner, everyone received a medal or a ribbon, and each kid was greeted at the finish line with a smile, a hug, and a packet of fruit snacks. It was truly fun for everyone.

And it turns out, we should pay attention to these kids. America’s got a physical fitness problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now annually reminds us that nearly 40 percent of adults are officially “obese,” and when that figure is added to those that are “overweight,” the total climbs to over 70 percent (which means that it is abnormal today to be an American adult at a healthy weight).

We adults don’t exercise for fun like we did when we were younger. At some point we head to the gym on a death-march-for-one. We go solo. There’s no friends, and often no fun involved.

Wouldn’t it be great if we found ways to inject joy into physical fitness? And some fruit snacks?

We should think about following these little Landsharks. They might just show us a better way.

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