Aside from my marketing duties, I also worked a lot with pre- and race day registration. My other “duty-as-assigned” was manning the back-up timing station during the race. A comfy chair, can of pop, and front-row seat for the start line made it a fun job.
One of the things that those not in the racing community are surprised about is that most races–from 5k to marathon–support some sort of charity. I have participated in races to benefit local schools, St. Jude, AIDS research, personal medical treatment, raise awareness of world hunger, stamp out hate, and a variety of other genuinely good causes. Consider also that the individuals organizing these races do it for no pay, and that the between 20 and 3,000 volunteers that actually execute each race are volunteers. When you think of all of this, the fitness community can be a very philanthropic community.
Granted not everyone participates for a cause. In fact many just love the opportunity to race. But there is still a lot of good that comes of it. I want to talk about one of the ways I have been giving back to my community for the past three years. I write this not for a pat on the back, but in hopes that maybe some of my fellow athletes will find a cause they are passionate about and begin giving back as well. For me, giving back is something that began as a means and evolved into something more altruistic.
Easter Seals’ campers served as the official race starters. They even spent much of the event cheering in racers at the finish line.
Run the Woods is a 5k and 8k that raises money for the Timber Pointe Outdoor Center–a camp that offers an outdoor experience to individuals with mental and physical disabilities. It was originally a dilapidated Boy Scout camp until it was purchased by Easter Seals. The camp is now a beautiful place right next to Lake Bloomington that offers gorgeous scenery, nice facilities, and even some animals kept on site for the campers to interact with. More importantly the staff is trained to work with the special needs of the campers, who would not otherwise be able to take part in this experience. It can be transformational, and many of the campers spend all year looking forward to their time at camp. To top it off, not one person is turned away for inability to pay. That is amazing!
Approximately 200 runners are briefed before the race. Some were new to trail running and others were seasoned trail runners. All were looking forward to beautiful scenery and a pancake breakfast!
I had just finished a year in Leadership McLean County, a series of leadership building seminars put on for 40 people each year by the chamber of commerce. One of my classmates, who worked for Easter Seals, knew I was a runner and a marketer, and asked if I might be interested in joining the committee and work on race marketing. I jumped at the chance. Not because I was so moved by the mission–to be honest at the time I wasn’t completely sure what the camp was, nor was I sure what Easter Seals did. Instead I figured it would be a good way to make some professional connections and add another line to my resume. Good for me, and good for the camp.
That mindset quickly changed once I started working with the camp staff and the rest of the race committee.
These people were passionate about the camp. They wanted to work and put on a great race to make sure that camp could continue to not turn a single camper away. And Run the Woods wasn’t just about raising money. It was a chance to raise awareness and bring new people out to the camp to see it firsthand and meet the children and families who look forward to that one week each year.
Their passion was contagious. So much so that I am still on the committee after three years. I did get that line for my resume and I made some professional connections–just like I wanted. But that wasn’t the real gain. More importantly I have made some great friends, learned a lot about individuals with special needs, gained some understanding about how Easter Seals benefits patients and families, and have had the opportunity to do something good for people who deserve it. I am a lucky guy.
I hope my fellow athletes have a chance to be a part of an event that is important to you. Even if you don’t have time to site on the planning committee, volunteering on race day can be a big help, and those volunteers are very much appreciated. Races don’t happen without them. I am sure you will find the time spent making sure others have a great time will be just as valuable for you, if not more.
Author’s note: One of the other race committee members and my fellow Epic Endurance teammate is running the NYC Marathon and using the event to raise money for Easter Seals. Consider making a gift and help her meet her fundraising goal. Even a few dollars could make a big difference. Thanks!