'Keep them enthusiastic' - Olympian Rod Dixon's recipe for getting Kiwi kids to run a marathon

Source: 1News

Rod Dixon, a New Zealand world-conquering track athlete from the 1970s and eighties who now lives in California, has brought his progressive running programme called Kidsmarathon to his homeland.

Now 68, Dixon has devoted the last couple of decades to getting children running to invigorate their bodies and minds and improve their health and wellness.

Kidsmarathon is one of his pet projects and the programme is now in schools across the US, as well as Ireland, the Philippines and New Zealand.

TVNZ1's Seven Sharp found Dixon spreading his infectious enthusiasm among children at tiny Mauku School near Pukekohe just south of Auckland.

"We have got to keep them moving. We have got to keep them enthusiastic. Exercise and movement opens them up," said Dixon.

Dixon won Bronze in the 1500 metres at the 1972 Munich Olympics, and a decade later won the New York Marathon. Now he's finding an even greater sense of achievement in schoolyard settings.

At the rate of a kilometre a day, children taking part in the Kidsmarathon programme complete the 42.2 kilometres that make a marathon.  

"It becomes part of their daily routine, they go out and run," Dixon said.

"Kids are kids. They are born to move and they love it and they respond to it," he said.

"There's a pride. P-R-I-D-E - personal responsibility for individual daily effort. They know they are doing a good job and we have just got to encourage them to keep at it." 

Dixon recalled a visit to his Nelson school in 1960 by Sir Edmund Hillary who told the kids Mount Everest isn't high enough for their goals, dreams and aspirations.

"Twelve years later I'm at the Olympic Games winning a medal," Dixon said.

"In 1973 I went 'round and knocked on Sir Edmund's door. I said, 'Sir, you came to my school, you inspired me and now I have this medal.'

"He looked at it and said, 'This is very fine. Will you promise me one thing? Will you inspire the next generation?'

"I said I would do."

At Mauku School and schools far and wide, Rod Dixon is doing just that.