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Children at Monte Vista Elementary School ran all the way to Saudi Arabia - without leaving home.

The students in the school's fifth grades developed an interest in running this fall when a teacher, Karen Young, decided they needed to become aware of the benefits of physical fitness.Over time, it became a healthy obsession. The children first ran "across the United States," accumulating enough miles among them to bridge the space between here and the Atlantic coast.

Then the gulf crisis developed, and they decided to keep on running.

Thursday, they celebrated the milestone - 5,700 miles, and Gov. Norm Bangerter was at the school to congratulate them.

"Learning to stay in shape is a good thing to do," said the governor, whose visit was heralded with a banner greeting "Grandma and Grandpa Governor," even though Colleen Bangerter didn't make it to the school Thursday. The Bangerters have a granddaughter, Amy Gayheart, who is a student at Monte Vista.

The student kiva also was decorated with certificates showing how far each child had run (Grant Gilmore topped the list with 108 miles), and with lop-legged camels, gaily tassled camel saddles, Persian carpets and other items from the Middle East. A child-crafted mural featured running children on one end and a military camp, obviously in a desert, on the other.

Except for the mural and certificates, the appropriate decor was provided by Richard and Cheryl Tucker, a South Jordan couple who have lived in Kuwait and Saudia Arabia. Their son, Jeffery, attended Thursday's event wearing desert garb and being addressed as "Abdullah."

Bangerter also took special note of two families in the school, one with a father in the Persian Gulf and the other a mother. They are a pharmacist and nurse, respectively.

"We hope they'll be home without getting into a war," he told the children, noting he also had a turn in the military when Korea was the international hot spot.

Young hopes the exercise project will encourage the children to maintain a healthful lifestyle for years to come. When they started running, many "had difficulty sustaining a quarter of a mile," she said. After two months, all were easily running more than a mile four times a week, and some of them were really into it. When they were allowed to run as long as they wanted, six boys ran eight miles, and one ran 11 before they had to stop for lunch. Some have involved their parents in running with them.

The program got a boost when track coach Jeff Arbagast of nearby Bingham High School brought his distance running teams (ranked 13th in the nation) to help the elementary schoolchildren with their running techniques. They staged a mini-track event for the younger students.

In addition to "running" to Saudi Arabia, the Monte Vista children have taken on a challenge to write letters to American servicemen. "We chose 12 servicemen known to the students and faxed letters to them to tell them that `we were coming,' " Young said. Christmas gift boxes followed the letters.

With the United States and Saudi Arabia both behind them, who knows where the Monte Vista runners will run to next?