Nike Employee Mentoring Spotlight: Holly Darnell, Coach at Marathon Kids

Holly Darnell, Learning and Development Lead at Nike and Coach at Marathon Kids
May 29th, 2018
Posted In: Campaigns, Corporate Engagement, Mentoring Stories

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Mentoring youth is a big passion of mine. I currently mentor through a program called Marathon Kids, which is a nonprofit that encourages kids to get active and run the length of a marathon over the course of a program. My background is in exercise science so fitness and nutrition are true passions of mine, and I love working with youth, so Marathon Kids seemed like a perfect match. I decided to start my own running group at a local elementary school with the help of the PE teacher and Nike. The first year we had 95 kids sign up and I did not expect to have such high engagement, so it was definitely a whirlwind trying to organize our meetings every Thursday. Once we finished out the school year, I coached another Marathon Kids group on the Nike campus during the summer, which was the first Nike HQ Marathon Kids summer programming. Since then, I have started another group at the same elementary school with about 40 kids, and we still meet every Thursday!

We have them run laps but we also do warm-ups with them, and try to teach them certain muscle groups. We wanted to create a way to visibly track their laps, so now they wear a card on a lanyard around their necks, and each time they complete a lap, they get a mark on their card so they can see how many laps they are running as they go. This is motivating because they can physically see how many laps how many laps they still have to complete their marathon as they are running which really encourages them. They will say things like “let me do one more” or “hang on I need to finish this last one” and it is really cool to see that when you help them establish a goal, how hard they work to achieve it. The smiles I see when they reach their goals is just amazing. Each marathon they complete, they receive a different type of “prize.” When the kids received their T-shirts for completing their first marathon, they wore them all the time, they were so proud to be a part of the program.

What I love about this program is we get kids from all different athletic abilities. We have a student with autism who participates and comes every Thursday, and it has been a place where he feels free to be himself and can accomplish a goal that he set out for himself! We have a lot of kids where setting a goal about how many laps they can run helps them focus in a way that they may not be able to in other areas of life. Working to achieve that 26.2 mile marker is such an accomplishment and it helps lots of kids to identify with being a marathon runner and athlete overall.

I try to encourage the kids to mentor each other as well. Sometimes we play games and it’s fun to watch the older kids explain and teach the game rules to the younger ones. Sometimes when the younger kids are tired and want to give up on running laps, the older ones will run with them, encouraging them to keep going and stay focused. It also works vice versa! I have seen the younger kids challenge the older kids to help motivate them.

We’ve had some external coaches, like Shannon Boxx, former member of the United States Women’s National Soccer Team, come in and do new drills with the kids. These coaches come and share their stories and participate with the kids. Some of these athletes are former Olympic medalists or have won Super Bowl rings, they come from a variety of athletic backgrounds and their stories can help the kids connect running laps to really striving to become an elite athlete. I also try to get male Nike employees to come because for some of the older boys who struggle with behavioral issues, having someone who they can relate to is really helpful. They often are like, “Oh, he is so cool, he works at Nike” and are more likely to run their laps.  It helps show that if you put your mind to something, you can push towards it. I think a big part of mentoring, especially in a kid’s world, is just about being present and showing them that you care and that they matter, and all of our coaches do this at Marathon Kids!

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