The Winter Challenge Was… Well, A Challenge


Just because things are inevitable doesn’t make them any easier.

In November, the ongoing health issues around the world made it clear we’d have to cancel our regularly scheduled Saturday Morning at the Races program for area kids. With that program gone, we needed a replacement.

OK, good. Next came the hard part, though, coming up with an idea.

We wanted to create something fun and engaging – these are kids, after all – and we didn’t want a program that caused parents to groan with one more activity to manage. Many of our own staff have experienced the hard truth — when schools and most every other part of our life changed, not every virtual replacement program was created equal.

Before our new idea was born, we enlisted help from the experts – physical education teachers. They’d been trying to keep kids active from afar for months, and we wanted our program to be in line with what they were hoping to accomplish. So, with the help of educators from the Duluth, Hermantown, Proctor, and Superior school districts, the YAF Winter Challenge was born.

Actually, one of the hardest parts at the beginning was deciding on a name. Some of the honorable mentions from the cutting room floor:

  • Kids on the Move
  • Kids MOVEMent
  • Snow Much Fun
  • Saturday Mornings at Home
  • Getting Active with Alivia

That last one was not a favorite of mine, but some of the other staff here got a kick out of it.

The goals of the YAF Winter Challenge are very simple. We were aiming to do three things:

  1. Promote the YAF’s mission of developing and promoting healthy lifestyles for children.
  2. Provide helpful tools and incentives for children 14 and under to stay active this winter.
  3. Ensure activities are easily achievable for all children regardless of access to equipment and transportation and without requiring any prior knowledge or skill.

Finding activities that don’t require any (or at least limited) equipment is harder than you think. You need ice skates to go skating or play hockey, but some rinks do have them available for free. In the end, we had to admit that some activities we chose are even a stretch on that theory. Case in point, you can go sledding without a sled, just slide down on your butt!

We wanted to do our best to make this an engaging program for kids and not just a list of activities with a free bag of goodies and snacks. So, we asked local colleges to help show kids how to do some of the activities and offer encouragement. St. Scholastica, UMD, and UW-Superior all donated their time to help us out. 

We added a community resources page on our website – you should check it out here. In creating that page, I learned about things I never knew people were doing in this area despite living here for 23 years now. Yes, winters are long and hard in northern Minnesota, but there is plenty to do if you know where to look. What we were doing is making it easier for people to look.

While I am excited to get back to in-person events and to spend my Saturday Mornings in January and February at an indoor track watching kids run (and sometimes fall down), I think the YAF Winter Challenge might be here to stay.

We have almost 400 kids registered so far (you can still register your kids here), and we were able to expand our geographic reach greatly to kids who would never be able to make it to Duluth or the surrounding areas (hello to my friends in Nebraska!).

Despite a pandemic, the Young Athletes Foundation has found new and creative ways to do some good in our communities. I’m proud of what we’ve created, and I am sure that there is much more to come in 2021!


Get To Know the Staff

Name: Alivia Nelson

Years at Grandma’s Marathon: <1 year as full-time staff. I’ve helped as a seasonal employee since I was 15 and grew up around the event since my parents are both involved.

Favorite Grandma’s Marathon Memory: In 2016 I convinced six of my friends who were not runners to run the full marathon. Most of them had never run more than a mile in gym class and getting to watch them do all the training and cross the finish line was perfect. Some of them have sworn off running but a few have become repeat marathoners.

Favorite Food: Ice Cream

Favorite TV show: Gilmore Girls or Reality TV

Favorite Music Genre: Early 2000’s pop

Best Odd Job: My parents own a toy store, so on weekends during the holidays I get to live out my own “Hallmark movie” experience.

Favorite Hobby: Recycling

Best Concert You’ve Ever Seen: I saw Drake Bell from Drake and Josh in concert in college.

Favorite State: Vermont. My favorite thing about it is how much it reminds me of Minnesota, though.

New Year’s Resolution: I have lots of things on my to-do list for 2021, including learning to do a push-up, learning to sew, and helping to put on a marathon.

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