Jade Finley started noticing something was wrong about a year ago.
"I was getting a little flabby," said the sixth-grader at Bryan Station Middle School.
So Jade, 11, started running. The more she ran, the more she liked it, especially after she spent this summer participating in a free YMCA program designed to get kids ages 10 to 18 interested in running for fun and exercise.
"I've dropped a whole dress size," she said. "It makes me feel good. I'm really enjoying it."
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Jade's mother can tell a difference, too.
"This has really made her blossom," Tanya Finley said. "She has taken a big interest in running, and she says she's going to try out for the school track team."
Jade was one of about 15 young people and almost as many adult mentors who have met outside historic Loudoun House three times a week since July 25 to participate in the YMCA's Run the Streets program.
After stretching and get- acquainted exercises, participants spend an hour each Monday and Wednesday evening and two hours each Saturday morning doing relays and running games around Castlewood Park, and running through the park and the surrounding North Lexington neighborhood.
Students who attended eight of the first 12 sessions received a team T-shirt and a pair of running shoes, courtesy of the YMCA of Central Kentucky and John's Run Walk Shop. "They all worked hard to earn those shoes," said their leader, Elissa Roycraft, sports and program director at the Beaumont Centre Family YMCA.
The kids who stick with the program will get a free entry in the Run for Education, a 10K race Oct. 8 in Midway.
"I've definitely noticed a health difference in the kids since we started," Roycraft said. "They're able to go a lot farther than what they thought they would be able to do."
Although one boy admitted that he was there because his mother made him, others I talked with told of experiences similar to Jade.
"I've improved quite a bit since I started this," said Elizabeth Minor, 15, who said Run the Streets helped her make Henry Clay High School's varsity cross-country team.
"He loves it," Belinda Stewart said of her son, Baylen, 10, a fifth-grader at Sandersville Elementary School. "He's been running 5Ks with his daddy all summer."
One key to the program has been having students run with one another and with the adult mentors, many of whom are avid runners in their spare time, Roycraft said. "Even though running is an individual sport, we try to make it as much about teamwork as possible," she said.
Carol Russell volunteered to be a mentor because she thinks exercise is important to lifelong health. She didn't start running until age 47. Now 56, Russell said she recently qualified for the Boston Marathon.
"Childhood obesity is a real problem in Kentucky, as is Type 2 diabetes," said Russell, who helps organize the Girl Scouts' Thin Mint Sprint, a 5K race at the Kentucky Horse Park each May.
Russell thinks it is important for adults to help kids get into the habit of lifelong exercise because physical activity isn't as much a natural part of childhood as it once was.
"When we were kids, we all played outdoors," she said. "We didn't have video games."