Getting kids hooked on running is the life’s mission of a legendary Kiwi athlete heading to Queenstown this Easter.
Olympic medallist and ’83 New York City Marathon winner Rod Dixon, one of the world’s best runners of his era, is guest of honour at the inaugural Lap of Lake Hayes Race on April 20, alongside fellow Kiwi running great, Lorraine Moller.
California-based Dixon believes exercise and nutrition at a young age are crucial, and has imbued about a half a million kids worldwide with a love of running through his Kid’s Marathon Foundation.
“Participation at a young age is important, more so than winning,” he says.
“Kids are born to run, and we’re telling them to sit down and keep quiet all day at school.”
In schools that have adopted his run programme, children get up every 90 minutes or so and run a lap of their school.
“The kids that participate in that programme have higher test scores than the ones who don’t do it.”
Nelson-raised Dixon says he knows Queenstown from holidaying here as a youngster. He recalls encouraging famous blind American actor and motivational speaker Tom Sullivan, when he was a special correspondent for ABC’s AmericaQueenstown to do the ‘Awesome Foursome’ combination of bungy jumping, jetboating, rafting and a chopper trip.
“He was on Skippers Bridge ready to bungy jump and I said, ‘well, what do you think of this, Tom?’
“He said, ‘this could be the same as every time I step off the kerb and I don’t know where I’m going. I’m just believing you that this is going to be fun.”‘
Dixon, after whom the main Lap of Lake Hayes Race trophy will be named, says he’s in discussions with race organiser, Queenstown Athletic president Neville Britton, about bringing his Kid’s Marathon programme to Southland.
“Neville’s very enthusiastic and passionate about what he’s doing, and those are the people communities have got to get around and support.”
Dixon, 68, says he still runs, but mountain bikes more. “I go out for about three or four hours on a bike, where I can go out with my mates.
“I can’t run for three or four hours – I don’t have that drive any more to go out and run those long runs.”