Healthy Chaos

Mileage Club has school kids on the run–and loving it.

Lucas Bleyle is the first one out of the gate.

He blasts through the doors of Sawyer Elementary in Ames and heads straight for the quarter-mile track that rings the school's playground area. A mob of other fleet-footed youngsters
soon follows him.

The reason for this impressive display of energy? It's Mileage Club, the hugely popular Mary Greeley
Medical Center-sponsored program that promotes health and physical activity at area elementary schools.Mileage club

An eight-week program offered during the spring semester, Mileage Club gives hoards of loud, boisterous elementary school kids the opportunity to run or walk around a track and earn coveted rewards for their efforts. They do it three times a week during recess and receive a mark on their Mileage Club card for every lap they complete. As anyone who has seen Mileage Club in action can tell you, it can be a frenzied event, but it’s healthy chaos.

Kindergartners receive a certificate for completing a mile. All students earn plastic toe tokens for every five miles they complete. The tokens come in a variety of colors, from hot pink to cool camouflage, and most kids proudly display them on chains they wear around their necks each Mileage Club day. Special prizes are rewarded in recognition of reaching 10, 15, 20 and 25 miles.

More than 4,200 students at Ames public elementary schools, St. Cecilia’s in Ames, Ballard West, Ballard East, Gilbert, Nevada, Colo-Nesco and Roland-Story participate in Mileage Club programs.

The Iowa State University Campus Community Partnership for Health ( hopes to create Mileage Club programs at schools outside of Story County.

Keeping It Running

Mileage Club was launched five years ago with a Harkin Community Wellness Grant.

The grant only lasted two years, but the program was so well-liked that Mary Greeley Medical Center opted to take it over.

This year the program found a new home in Mary Greeley Medical Center’s Diabetes and Nutrition Education Center, which is a perfect place for it given the center’s focus on issues related to childhood nutrition and obesity.

Filling a Need

Programs like Mileage Club are more important than ever. Concerns about childhood obesity and diabetes are increasing. It's estimated that nearly one-third of American children are overweight or obese. It's also estimated that one-third of people born in the year 2000 or later will eventually suffer from diabetes or face chronic obesity-related health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and asthma. First Lady Michelle Obama has recently taken on the challenge of raising awareness of the problem. Meanwhile, faced with the one-two punch of tight budgets and strict education standards, many schools are cutting back on the amount of time schoolchildren have for recess and other physical activities.

"As a pediatrician, it does my heart good to see so many kids being physically active," says Dr. Jill Alexander, a pediatrician with McFarland Clinic who volunteers for Mileage Club. "As a mom, I'm thrilled at how much they all seem to enjoy doing this. The enthusiasm is incredible.”

It takes a team of volunteers to make Mileage Club work. There are usually a few parents stationed around the Mileage Club track, making sure everything goes smoothly, and another group frantically marking off laps on Mileage Club cards.

Each school has a volunteer coordinator, usually a parent, who oversees the program. Other parents, teachers, school administrators and school aides also provide invaluable support.

Flying Around the Track

That Lucas is usually the first one on the track on Mileage Club day doesn't surprise anyone at Sawyer. After all, the third-grader was the Mileage Club champ last year, running 70 miles during the eight-week program.

Ask him why he likes Mileage Club or why he likes running and Lucas will likely tell you, "I don’t know." He's a quiet kid who lets his legs do the talking. In fact, Mileage Club made such an impression on him last year that he’s now running in 5K races.

That’s the kind of impact this program has.

But Lucas had some stiff competition this year. There's a kindergartner who is matching him mile for mile.

It’s his little brother, Gray. Mileage Club, it appears, runs in the family.