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Devlyn Brooks, Published October 24 2011

Brooks: Mile Run Day not all it’s cracked up to be

I propose that next year each of our elementary schools hosts a 500-meter swim in which every child must participate.

And we’ll certainly build up the hype: Make the kids think about it for weeks; invite their parents to up the stakes; and make certain that the kids know that their finishing times will be recorded so that they can easily be used to determine who in the class is and who is not a good swimmer.

Who’s with me?

Then, the week after, we could hold a contest comprised solely of feats of strength. You know, a deadlift, a bench press and maybe some squats. And, again, we won’t miss the opportunity to freak out the kids. … Big build-up, parents in attendance, recorded weights to be shared openly among classmates, the works.

Yep … I can’t wait to be the parent standing along the wall of the gymnasium, beaming because I know that my son will come home filled with confidence after crushing his much smaller classmates in these events.

But, here’s the rub: I won’t ever know that feeling, nor will my son. Because some time ago, some educator or some bureaucrat, or both, decided that it was necessary to test how swiftly our elementary kids run a mile. Not just IF they can run a mile, mind you. No, we have to be sure to measure and record how fast they do it.

Oh, I know it’s justified by saying that running teaches our kids fitness, and saying that running is an activity that everyone can do into old age, unlike most competitive sports. How do I know? Because I already have had these conversations and heard these explanations when my oldest son endured the trauma of the mile runs.

But I call poppycock.

There is any number of physical activities that are good for kids and in which they can continue to participate for a lifetime. Swimming, hiking, and walking quickly come to mind, and to a lesser degree even weightlifting, all things my son is better at than running. But we don’t place any of them on a pedestal like we do running.

Imagine how much different our family’s experience would be if the attention was placed on another activity. I know at least this: There’s a far greater chance that my son would come home feeling successful rather than disappointed as he does now.

Nope, instead each year in elementary we celebrate the arbitrarily chosen mile-run as our mark of fitness, and those kids who aren’t gifted runners can be damned.

What makes those tears shed and the hours of sleep lost in the lead up to and in the wake of Mile Run Day even more aggravating is that my son isn’t a sloth, isn’t inactive, isn’t physically unfit. He’s simply not a runner. And it doesn’t take a genetic scientist to understand why.

To the contrary, he is very active, an athlete even. He participates in sports year-round, and frankly, excels in activities that are in his wheelhouse.

But because it is the mile run we celebrate in elementary school there’s no opportunity for the Bug to come home and excitedly tell me how he performed or for me to cheer him on happily from the sidelines.

Instead, there are tears shed and many hours spent consoling him, helping him to understand that regardless of how he finishes in the mile that the outcome does not determine his overall worth as a human being.

And the greatest tragedy is that despite how soul-crushing this silly run is, the situation will not change because we will never ditch it. It’s become a rite of passage that is for inexplicable reasons untouchable.

Devlyn Brooks works for Forum Communications Co. He and his two sons live in Moorhead.