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Giving Back

  • By Mario Fraioli
  • Published Dec. 10, 2010

Ryan and Sarah hall combine their passions for running and social justice with the Hall Steps Foundation. Photo: John Segesta

Ryan and Sara Hall both enjoy running fast and winning races. But what means more to them is knowing that there is meaning to every step they take.

Written by: Bob Babbitt

He was in college and confused. His running wasn’t going well, and he was dealing with nagging injuries. A classic success story coming out of high school, Ryan Hall was beginning to wonder if he would ever realize his vast running potential. “There are times in your life when you are faced with challenges and those challenges build character,” remembers Hall. After taking time off from Stanford University to refocus, Hall returned to school with new dedication—and from then on, his career has taken off. He is the first American to break an hour for the half marathon (59:43); he is the fastest American-born marathoner ever (2:06:17); and he won the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials in New York before taking 10th in his first-ever Olympic Marathon in Beijing.

Hall and his wife Sara, one of America’s top runners at 1,500 meters and the Foot Locker High School National Champion back in 2000, considered going right from college to work on a mission of helping others. Instead, they realized that the notoriety they could achieve through running could help them even more, in some way, change the world. That is why they created the Hall Steps Foundation. “Starting the Hall Steps Foundation has combined two of my greatest passions—running and social justice,” says Sara. “I’ve seen the power that runners rallying around a cause can have, even in a developing country thousands of miles away. To date we have funded clean water projects in East Africa, efforts against human trafficking in Southeast Asia, and we’ve started running mentoring programs for at-risk youth here in the United States.”

"How can we leverage running so that everyone is taking a small step towards the goal of ending global poverty and providing clean water?” Ryan Hall asked himself. The answer: The Hall Steps Foundation. Photo: John Segesta

“We are surrounded by great African runners,” adds Hall. “We have been inspired by Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie, and Kenyans Paul Tergat and Lornah Kiplagat. They go home with their winnings and transform their communities through their prize money and fame. That’s what Sara and I want to do. How can we leverage running so that everyone is taking a small step towards the goal of ending global poverty and providing clean water?”

When you are training a mind-numbing amount of miles each week trying to become the very best in the world, the time commitment can seem self-serving and all-consuming. For Hall, what keeps him motivated to get out the door is the fact that his charity and the people he can help through it adds a ton of fulfillment to his life and to his running. “At the end of the day, if I finish 10th or win,” he says, “I’m going to make an impact on someone’s life, which is really what I’m after.”

One of Hall’s biggest inspirations has been Lance Armstrong and the work he has done to help fund cancer research and support the cancer-afflicted population. “Look at the impact Lance has had on the world,” Hall continues. “People working out in the gym are all wearing their LIVESTRONG gear. He has made it cool to fight cancer. That’s what I want to do for poverty and clean water.”

It’s pointed out that Lance has also won seven Tour de France titles, which gives him a pretty large platform to speak from. “I see Boston in some ways as my Tour de France,” Hall says. “I’ve definitely got some work to do. If God wants me to win Boston and turn Hall Steps into a LIVESTRONG-sized foundation, that’s great. But even if we just help one person dealing with poverty, bring clean water to just one community in Africa, or touch one life through our mentoring program, that makes it all worthwhile.”

Hall hopes that as he signs autographs for kids at races he also inspires them to love other people around them and help cure cancer, end poverty or do whatever it is that is in their hearts. “That, to me, is what success is all about.”

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Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli is a senior editor at Competitor magazine. A cross-country All-American at Stonehill College in 2003, he now coaches the Prado Women's Racing Team in San Diego and was the men's marathon coach for Costa Rica's 2012 Olympic team. His first book, The Official Rock 'n' Roll Guide To Marathon & Half-Marathon Training (VeloPress, 2013) is available in bookstores, running shops and online.

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