When the Mighty Milers program started at P.S. 107 in Brooklyn last year, 8-year-old Demian was one of the first children enrolled.
Demian was already active in rugby and soccer, but it wasn't until he started running in the New York Road Runners youth program that his parents, Vernon Scott and Martin Losfnes, saw a spark in their son.
"We noticed him adding up his miles [to keep up with the incentives that Mighty Milers offers], and he became quite motivated through the program to run more and to run long distances," his father Vernon told NBC New York. "And he would come home and tell us, 'I ran this many miles today.'"
The big change came in Thanksgiving 2009, when the five-mile Turkey Trot race was held at Prospect Park. Demian told his parents he wanted to run the race.
"I said to him, 'Well, are you sure?' I thought that was a big leap for him," said Scott, who told his son he'd think he'd have to run it with him. "And I'm not a runner. I'm a dancer in my history, but running five miles without having worked up to it is quite different."
Still, "We took his lead, and on Thanksgiving morning, he woke up early, and said 'I want to do it.' And we were like, 'Okay, all right.' And I truthfully thought we'd run a little, walk a little."
"He ran the entire thing," said Scott. "And that was the first time we thought, okay, this is serious, and he's serious about it."
Since then, Demian has also joined Prospect Park Youth Running Club, and is now running twice a week and during meets on weekends. He continues to run in the weekly Mighty Milers program.
Last month, Demian made it to the Chicago Nationals, where he won first place in the 1,500-meter race. (Facebook video of Demian's run in Chicago, courtesy of parents Martin Losfnes and Vernon Scott).
But Scott said the single most appealing thing to him about the Mighty Milers program is not the athletic exceptionalism it brings out in a few children, but the encouragement it lavishes on all its young participants. The results of such positivity show up in other indirect ways, he said.
"I like the idea that you're doing something not only for your body, but for your mind," Scott said. "You get this confidence... I see that focus in his schoolwork. Sometimes he would give up quicker [with his schoolwork] -- but now he's like, 'No, hmm. Maybe I can do it.'"
"In the big picture, if he never runs another step, that's what he can take for the rest of his life, that confidence," Scott added. "I also know that confidence he's going to hold on to."
"I believe in the aspect of physical health," Scott said, "But also what you find is focus and motivation to do well."
"Mighty Milers built up [the kids'] confidence," added Scott. "You can do this, and you can do more -- and look at what you've done."
Demian was one of over 250 students from P.S. 107 who ran in the Mighty Milers Fitness Fundraiser at the Park Slope Armory YMCA last Sunday, April 3, to raise money for the Prospect Park YMCA Strong Kids Campaign. The kids, ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade, hoped to raise $3,000 -- and ended up raising over $6,000.