Running For Charity: Uniting For A Cause

Charities thrive on uniting runners for a common cause.

Learn how you can make a difference at your next race.

Training for any race is not an easy task, but running for charity can make the process more meaningful, help you stay on track and provide the support and inspiration to raise funds to support research and raise awareness for the organizations. Runners decked out in team shirts advertising their charity are common sights on race courses these days, as charity training programs have grown significantly over the years.

Running USA reports a record-high 507,000 people ran marathons and 1,385,000 ran half-marathons in the U.S. in 2010; the nonprofit claims that charity training programs is what has fueled the two distances’ popularity.

According to the Run Walk Ride Fundraising Council, endurance events generated a total of $1.65 billion for charities in 2010. Among the top four events was the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training program, which raised $97 million. As one of the largest athletic event fundraisers in the nation, the purple-clad racers come together to raise funds for cancer patients and their families.

For Team in Training program team captain Ilana Balint, 32, who’s involved with the Washington/Alaska chapter, joining the program not only helped her develop a lifelong running habit, but also a purpose.

Balint first joined Team in Training in 2006 in an effort to lose weight and support her father and cousin, who were diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and leukemia.

“I was overweight and a self-proclaimed couch potato. But since I joined, I’ve run eight marathons with Team in Training; 11 marathons overall, one ultramarathon and countless half-marathons,” said Balint, who’s lost 60 pounds and has personally raised nearly $45,000 for the organization.

Team in Training connects its participants with a network of certified coaches and other charities, such as the Children’s Tumor Foundation’s NF Endurance programs, but must rely on volunteers to lead the way.

Of the organization’s 30 employees, only three are dedicated to the training program. But despite the small staff, nearly 900 participants across the nation have signed up for the program, which has raised nearly $4 million since its inception in 2004 to support children affected by neurofibromatosis (NF), a genetic disorder of the nervous system.

“What makes the program unique is that it’s volunteer-driven. Dedicated individuals serve as team captains and commit to the charity by recruiting people and encouraging them through the process, setting fundraising goals and organizing community events,” said Sarah Coulam, NF Endurance program director. The NF Endurance Program, which raised $1.5 million in 2011, was created by Anita Carter, a former volunteer, whose son was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis-1.

Charity races connect participants with athletes affected by the cause—just ask Alan Shaken, a below-knee amputee and board of directors member of the Challenged Athletes Foundation.

The 51-year-old San Francisco resident and avid triathlete has been with the organization for four years and says joining the group has filled a void that has affected him since childhood.

“CAF gives me access to medical experts and technology, and lets challenged and non-challenged athletes learn from each other and prepare them for small local races as well as the Paralympic Games,” Shaken said.

The foundation has raised more than $31 million since its inception in 1994 to support challenged athletes with resources that aren’t readily available, such as prosthetics, which can cost as much $35,000 and are rarely covered by insurance. Shaken says this kind of support, along with the community that the foundation has created for its participants, is what has contributed to the organization’s success.

Team in Training, the first charity training program, dates back to 1988. Now, there are countless organizations across the globe, and finding a local chapter online is easy. Most have no or small registration fees. So instead of lacing up your running shoes and heading to the start line alone, find a purpose and run for something bigger than yourself.

This piece first appeared in the February 2012 issue of Competitor magazine. 

 

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