by Katie Orlando

Emily Milano didn’t like running a year ago, but over St. Patrick’s Day weekend, she will be crossing the finish line with 4,000 other kids after 26.2 miles.

At the Shamrock Operation Smile Final Mile in Virginia Beach on March 17, 8-year-old Emily and other elementary school children will run the last mile of a cumulative marathon. Kids keep track of the 25.2 miles they run leading up to the final mile, receiving surprise coupons every five miles.

The registration fee and donations will go to Operation Smile, which provides free surgeries to repair cleft lip, cleft palate and other facial deformities for children.

Emily’s mom, Christine Milano, started running a year ago and will run the Shamrock Marathon on March 18 in Virginia Beach. When she signed up and saw the children’s marathon, she asked Emily if she wanted to do it.

For now, Emily is running her five miles a week inside on the treadmill, but when the weather warms up, she and her mom will be able to run outside.

“It’s something we can do together, and get out of the house,” Milano said.

Already busy with swimming, Girl Scouts, choir and religion classes every week, Emily didn’t want to start running when her mom did.

Used to holding her breath during exercise, Emily’s started enjoying running with new breathing and pacing techniques.

She’s up to a speed of 4.1 miles per hour on the treadmill. She ran two miles without stopping this week.

“I’m really proud of her. She’s not a super athletic kid, and she’s all of a sudden started to like sports,” Milano said.

Emily is also in it for the cause.

“Her brother has autism, so it’s not unfamiliar to Emily about special needs,” Milano said.

Emily remembers meeting a child with cleft lip in her 6-year-old brother Michael’s church group, and she wants to help others like him.

“It’s really something you should do because it helps a kid with a disability,” Emily said. “Maybe the kid with a cleft lip is this close and just needs a few more dollars. Plus, running is good for you.”

Want to learn more?

Find more information about the Final Mile by visiting www.shamrockmarathon.com.