Found on RunnersWorld.com and written by Amanda Loudin
Demand for on-site child care is growing.
Forty-year-old Diana Betanzo is a fan of the Rock ’n’ Roll race series. She loves combining travel with racing and in 2015 alone hit 21 of the series’ events in an effort to become the Rock ’n’ Roll participant with the most races in a year.
As a mother of four, however, her quest isn’t easy. If it weren’t for race-site child care, in fact, she’s quite sure she wouldn’t be wearing so much bling.
Betanzo has taken advantage of RaceKids, the brainchild of Brandy Vaillancourt, which for the past year has partnered with the Rock ’n’ Roll series to provide on-site child care to participants. A runner and single mother, Vaillancourt dreamed up the concept after she had to leave her son behind when traveling to the 2013 Chicago Marathon. “I wanted to bring him and share the city with him,” she says, “but I didn’t have anyone there to watch him for five hours.”
It appears it’s a concept whose time has come. In addition to RaceKids, runners in Colorado can look for PRKids at several races throughout the state in 2016. Owned and operated by 37-year-old Michelle Duvall Kalinski. PRKids offers similar services to parents in need of child care while racing.
A runner since high school, Kalinski found racing became far more challenging when she became a mother. “Before kids, my husband and I were out racing almost every weekend,” she says. “But we discovered that once we had kids, it was much harder for us both to attend events. Try finding a sitter at 6 a.m. on a Sunday!”
After losing one too many registration fees because she or her husband couldn’t make it to a race, Kalinski began exploring options. “It took a full year to get the idea off the ground and operating,” she says. “But since last September, we’ve been at five races and we’re growing quickly.”
RaceKids has also experienced a big uptick in numbers. “We’ve tripled the number of kids registered at our events since starting,” Vaillancourt says. “We’ve topped off around 25 kids per race.”
Both RaceKids and PRKids set up their child care in a day camp format. Kids check in on race morning and begin a day filled with activities such as crafts, games, active play and healthy snacks or meals.
Parents can choose from a variety of options for how long their children stay at the site. RaceKids, for instance, offers a six-hour camp for children of half marathoners, and an eight-hour option for full marathoners. “This gives parents a chance to get to the race site, warm up, run the race and enjoy the food tent after,” explains Vaillancourt.
Both companies set up shop at or near the race site. PRKids, for instance, aims for the start/finish area with a tent whenever weather allows. In colder weather, Kalinski has moved indoors to nearby hotels or even a local high school.
Pricing varies among events and length of a child’s stay, and PRKids offers discounts for multiple children. Safety and security are front and center with both organizations. The ratio of the vetted child care staff to children is on par with the highest day-care requirements around the country, and families are matched with ID bracelets.
To date, both RaceKids and PRKids have found marketing to be one of the toughest aspects of their services. “We meet lots of runners who didn’t know about us beforehand but wish they had,” says Vaillancourt. “But we’ve had plenty of families who have used us multiple times.”
Heading into 2016, RaceKids will be breaking free of the Rock ’n’ Roll series and will be partnering with local race directors. Currently the schedule includes the Mercedes Benz Marathon, the Yuengling Shamrock Marathon, and the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon. PRKids will be at 25 events across Colorado in the coming nine months. Kalinski says expansion beyond Colorado is possible in the future, but admits she is limited in exactly how far she could personally take it.
No matter what, Kalinski says on-site child care has been a long time in coming. “I strongly believe this is the next big thing at races,” she says. “Everyone wins: the RD has more participants, the parents can run guilt-free, and the kids have fun.”