49ers' Lawson helping kids run

As a kid growing up in Goldsboro, N.C., all Manny Lawson wanted to do was play.

“In high school, I was that guy that just played sports,” the third-year 49ers linebacker said. “It was football, then it was basketball and then it was track. You can have the world on your shoulders, but once you get out and run, the release is incredible.”

Now Lawson is hoping to spread his lifelong love of fitness to middle school kids around The City. The 6-foot-5, 247-pound Lawson will lead 1,500 San Francisco students in the ING Run for Something Better program Thursday at Golden Gate Park in a preamble to Sunday’s ING Bay to Breakers. Beginning at 10 a.m., the seventh-graders will complete a 4-kilometer run around Speedway Meadow to promote healthy lifestyles. Nearly $275,000 has been filtered into San Francisco schools since the program was introduced in 2007, with that number set to increase to $575,000 by 2010. During today’s event, the national program will surpass 1 million miles run.

Lawson is an ideal spokesman for the event, having played football and run track while in college at North Carolina State. He said the physical and hourly demands of each sport actually helped him focus on his schoolwork and said he hopes to pass that message along to children in the Bay Area.

“I’m not a San Francisco native, but I’m here now and to be out there running with these kids means a lot to me,” Lawson said. “I had a lot of positive role models in my life growing up and hopefully I can inspire some of these kids to stay healthy and active.”

All of the students completed a free 12-week training plan to prepare for the event. Danielle Anderson, a physical education teacher at Francisco Middle School, said the program has motivated her students and each runner logged approximately 157 miles during gym and after-school running sessions.

“It’s had a huge impact — a lot of the kids are really into it,” Anderson said. “The kids used to walk aroundduring gym and now they run 2½ miles.”

Michelle Li is one of her students and brought some experience into the program as a member of the school track team. Still, she took a practical approach when asked what part of Thursday’s event she was looking forward to most.

“Finishing,” she said.

melliser@sfexaminer.com

ING Run for Something Better

WHEN: Thursday, 10 a.m.

WHERE: Speedway Meadows in Golden Gate Park

WHAT: An estimated 1,500 San Francisco seventh-graders will compete in a 4-kilometer walk that culminates a three-month fitness and training program

ABOUT THE PROGRAM: Run for Something Better is aimed at helping reduce childhood obesity; nearly $275,000 has been raised by the program

HOW TO CONTRIBUTE: www.orangelaces.com

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