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People profile: Martine Verweij

Co-founder, Kids Run Free

Published in Sports Management 2019 issue 1
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Martine Verweij co-founded Kids Run Free in 2011 with business partner Catherine O’Carroll
Martine Verweij co-founded Kids Run Free in 2011 with business partner Catherine O’Carroll

What’s your sporting background?
In my mid-twenties I discovered triathlon. In my first year I competed for the Netherlands, achieving 7th place in the 2005 World Long Distance Championships in Denmark. I then went on to compete for the UK in the Olympic Distance World Championships in Switzerland the following year.

Alongside triathlon I was also competing in mountain bike stage races in Europe and Africa, finishing 13th in editions of the Transalp race and the Cape Epic race in 2007.

Staying with the bike I moved onto cyclocross in my thirties, finishing in the top 10 at the National Cyclocross Championship in the elite race in 2009, and more recently gaining a silver medal in the National Championship in the women’s over 40s race.

How did the idea for Kids Run Free come about?
When I was six months pregnant with my first child I met and became friends with Catherine O’Carroll. Together we decided to organise running events. Two months later we launched our first event, under the name Raceways.

A year later I sold my catering business and focused all my energies on developing Raceways with Catherine. We also started running races for the children present, but participation was very low. When we asked parents, “why don’t you let your child out of the pushchair to participate in the running”, they would say things like: “My child doesn’t like running”, “My child can’t run” or “My child runs away!”

By 2011, Catherine and I were officially fed up with parents not allowing their children to engage with the running. We decided to set up the charity Kids Run Free to help show parents that their kids can and do like running.

In December of that year, Kids Run Free was launched with its first event in a park in Solihull. Our vision is to make all children happier, healthier and more confident through running.

What does Kids Run Free offer?
In order to achieve our mission and vision, we have developed two free programmes.

The first is Park Kids, where a group of local volunteers are trained up by us to deliver a fun and engaging running event for children in a park. Children can run as much or as little as they want. They are given a tracking log that they bring each time, to record their attendance and the distance they run.

Along the way, they receive rewards to celebrate their achievements and keep them motivated and having fun.

The second programme is Marathon Kids. This is a schools programme in which we challenge school children to run multiple marathons over a school year. This can be done during break time or lesson times, depending on what works best for the school. We work with each school to keep the teachers and children engaged. We also use research-based tools to reduce barriers and increase facilitators.

What challenges did you face?
We struggled to get our first park location off the ground. No council was interested in the concept in the first place. Now we get asked and funded, which is a nice change.

What impact has the charity made?
We’ve doubled the number of children we work with every year, something we’re very proud of. Last academic year we engaged over 83,000 children in at least one of our programmes.

Ninety-five per cent of children that stop coming to Park Kids instead step up to parkrun or athletic clubs or other activities. Meanwhile, as a result of seeing the engagement of their children, many parents have started to participate and find their own activities.

With the schools programme we see academic improvement, improved relationships with teachers, increased enjoyment in school and, of course, more physically fit children.

What are your future goals for the charity?
We aim to increase our Park Kids programme in line with the hotspots for our Marathon Kids programme, in order to increase parent engagement from schools to parks.

We will increase our reach to 120,000 next year, however we are more focused on improving the frequency of events.

Kids Run Free in numbers:

• 3,049 children have run at at least one Park Kids event during the last 12 months

• 48,910km is the overall distance run at Park Kids during the last 12 months

• Over 115,000 children have been reached by Kids Run Free programmes since 2011

• Over 100 volunteers help run Kids Run Free events at 31 locations across the UK

Connect with Kids Run Free

www.kidsrunfree.co.uk

@KidsRunFree

@MarathonKidsUK

@kidsrunfree

@MarathonKidsUK

@kids_run_free

@marathonkidsuk

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