Third-grade student Kalyn Foster never was interested in anything — until he discovered running.
Kalyn, who attends Maxey Elementary School in Winter Garden, has been part of the Westly’s Mile running club at the school since the program started in October.
Westly’s Mile was announced by The Foundation for a Healthier West Orange in collaboration with Healthy West Orange and the American Heart Association.
According to foundation COO Lesa Boettcher, the walk/run club is designed to give elementary students in West Orange County a foundation of healthy habits.
This year alone, Kalyn has run more than 50 miles and was recognized as the No. 1 runner at his school out of about 75 students who are part of the club.
In total, Maxey students ran 1,137.46 miles this school year.
Nivia Foster, Kalyn’s mother, is a teacher at Maxey Elementary. She said she has seen her son’s love for running grow both at home and at school since he first began.
She said Kalyn is the one who decided he wanted to be part of the club.
“I didn’t know anything about it, but these flyers came home, and he was like, ‘Mom, Mom, I’ve got to join this club,’” she said. “And I was like, ‘What club are you talking about?’ I thought it was another thing he said he wanted to do and then he wasn’t going to do it, but he surprised me. He has kept with it.”
Foster said her son, a child with high-functioning autism, has never been interested in anything besides video games.
She said she doesn’t know what it is about running that makes it different from anything else for her son, but she can tell he truly loves it.
A few weeks ago when the weather was bad on the Thursday run day, Kalyn cried because he was sad he could not go.
Kalyn also participated in the school’s 3K run April 15. He came in second place out of everyone — including participating adults.
“It makes me feel good that he found something like this that he loves,” Foster said. “Hopefully, he will continue it. We’re looking for stuff in the summertime that he can do involving running to see if he will stick with it.”
Although Kalyn excels in school — he earned all A’s and B’s this year and is referred to as “Rain Man” because he’s a math genius — Foster said her biggest worry is about how people will treat her son in the future.
“I won’t say he’s naive, but he’s so black and white,” she said. “I worry about people being mean to him when he gets older. Everyone is so loving here, and I just want him to be accepted and not treated like an outcast when he goes off to middle or high school in the future.”
Kalyn said he has made a lot of friends while participating in the running club.
“What I like about running is that I run so fast,” he said. “I’m like the wind. It makes me feel great.”
Westly’s Mile is hosted at five participating elementary schools: Maxey, Ocoee, SunRidge, Tildenville and Westbrooke.
Heather Maloney, executive director at AHA, said the organizations wanted to start with schools that had previously partnered with HWO and AHA in the past.
Over the next five years, Westly’s Mile will expand to 29 elementary schools. Long-term, Maloney said the goal is to provide the program across the entire West Orange County community.
To support the program, Boettcher said each school received program materials, guidance and stipends for teachers who lead the run/walk club. Maxey’s club was led by coach Jesse Cooper and teacher Amanda Pryor.
“Studies show that kids who are regularly active are more likely to have improved mental well-being, higher self-esteem, better sleep and better academic performance,” Boettcher said.
According to Maloney, since last October, nearly 400 elementary school students have walked or run more than 6,700 combined miles.
Some milestones achieved this year include 17 students completing 50 miles, two students finishing 75 miles, one student completing 100 miles, one student reaching 125 miles and one student completing 150 miles.
“Students are moving more and having fun learning to keep their hearts healthy,” Maloney said. “They enjoy spending time with friends and the feeling of accomplishing goals. Parents and caregivers have also noted that their children have more energy, are sleeping better, have increased mental focus and are eating healthier.”
At the program’s year-end celebration, Maloney said she asked parents and caregivers to describe Westly’s Mile in three words. A few of the responses received included “fun,” “active,” “entertaining,” “best experience ever,” “absolutely loved it” and “amazing healthy opportunity.”
“This is the first time we’ve had a club like this, and I think it’s really wonderful that it’s given the kids something else to do and a different way to express themselves and be a part of something,” Foster said.
Boettcher said the foundation hopes Westly’s Mile will continue to provide a fun and meaningful way for kids in the community to stay active.