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Final Draft Northwest Runner Article Wojnar


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This is an article I wrote for North West Runner magazine during my internship for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society.

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Final Draft Northwest Runner Article Wojnar

  1. 1. For immediate release Inspiring Athletes Meet A Dual Challenge: Marathon Distance and Fundraising Success Northwest Runner Magazine (Seattle) – by Martin Wojnar When we think of improving our health and wellbeing, logging a mile or two may come to mind, but how often do we think of truly going the distance, not just in miles, but also in the service of a good cause? As 2008 came to a close and winter storms ushered in the New Year, I was perusing internship listings in the hopes of finding something that matched my passion for public relations and marketing with my interests in sports and overall health and wellness. Imagine my surprise when an opportunity came up to work with one of the local charity endurance sports training programs. As an avid hockey fan, player and youth coach, it was obvious to me that sports marketing would be a good fit, but I didn't realize the whole new world it would open up. As I began to work with the staff, volunteers, coaches and participants that support Team In Training at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, I realized the true scope of what various charity training programs in the area do for novice athletes, for the organizations they serve, and for the endurance sports community. I’ve been touched and inspired by the stories of the amazing people I’ve encountered from athletes and coaches to race organizers and volunteers and I'd like to share some of my discoveries with you. Here in the Pacific Northwest, there’s a great deal of excitement building around the upcoming Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle Marathon & ½ Marathon, a great new opportunity not just for the endurance sports community at large, but for the many charity training programs that will be able to use the event as a platform to raise awareness and raise money. For example, I had the pleasure of speaking with Megan Young of Competitor Group, the organizers and promoters of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle Marathon & 1/2 Marathon. Coming from a strong foundation of managing the original Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in San Diego, Young has been warmly welcomed by Seattle where she is now steadily re- establishing the success from the California stage. “The registration was really strong coming into this” said Young just after the marathon course was unveiled. With the scarcity of distance races in the summer months, Seattle fits the bill quite nicely for a number of reasons. “You have a gorgeous destination, a great running community, and a great music scene. They all fit together perfectly in our Rock and Roll Competitor format” says Young. Competitor Group has been on the scene for a number of years organizing and presenting world-class events for endurance athletes at all levels of experience and ability. The
  2. 2. organization has placed a strong focus on partnering with non-profits right from the start. From the Team In Training partnership with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in San Diego now in it’s 12th year to the recent announcement of the inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon & Half Marathon to benefit the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, Competitor Group has been a strong supporter of charity training programs for over a decade. Sarah Michael is one of the charity athletes gearing up for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle Marathon and chose Team In Training to help achiever her marathon dream. The reality of training for a marathon with group support she feels is what is putting her athletic level over the top. “Inspiration was tough having previously trained on my own, now having the team program I’ve found it easier to keep up with running. I’m held more accountable knowing my group is waiting for me on those Saturday morning practices”. Educational clinics on proper running regimen don’t come short as well being a participant “We learn everything from proper nutrition, hydration leading up to races. We also have the luxury of attending clinics learning the science of how running shoes are built and what is needed to support our foot types, ranging from arch support to cushioning. This was concluded with a personalized shoe fitting for volunteers, which was a great perk.” When it comes to the planning of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle event, planners have many hurdles to overcome before the race. Their skill and dedication in doing so allows charity groups to participate in unique and memorable world-class events without the stress and expense of producing those events themselves. A few of these obstacles include: location and venue availability, competition to book space, availability of volunteers and community groups, road closures, emergency support, permit availability through multiple jurisdictions, competition for product sponsorship and much more. “We are making sure everything is coordinated with community groups, and since there is 26.2 miles of road that we close down, we factor in the complexities that might arise just from that,” said Young. The planning and creative problem-solving of dedicated people like Young and her colleagues at Competitor Group as well as Seafair, the City of Tukwila and the City of Seattle is only just the start. Add layers of community service organizations and volunteers and you start to get a picture of the complexity of it all. The careful coordination of all the logistics have made previous Rock ‘n’ Roll marathons such a success and have thus left legacy from the inaugural race. A key component to the unique dynamic of Rock ‘n’ Roll events across the country is Competitor Group’s commitment to influencing the events in a positive way despite being a for profit marketing company. It pays its dividends towards the broader good and goals of charity partners such as Team Challenge for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America, Team In Training, World Vision, Gilda’s Club, and many more. “We are a vehicle for charities to make sure they reach their fundraising goals, create excitement in gaining new participants, and the races are built in a fun non-competitive atmosphere. This mixes the event and charity well and brings a lot of value to the race and community as well”, says Megan Young of the Competitor Group. Athletic programs benefiting various non-profits are quickly spreading their roots across the NW region. Nari Benson, National Manager of Team Challenge for Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America, had this to say about her experiences as a staff member: “It’s
  3. 3. been a very rewarding job for me to be able to be part of a program that raises money to find a cure for Crohn’s and Colitis and inspires people to reach their own dreams by crossing the finish line of a half marathon.” Team Challenge is currently forming training groups for the Napa to Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon July 19, 2009 and as the event is now sold out, the best and only way to get in on the fun is by joining runners and walkers training with Team Challenge. Athletes and wine enthusiasts will join together for 13.1 mile walk through the beautiful vineyards of the Carneros wine region. Team Challenge is returning for its second year to experience this breathtaking course. “It’s an experience of a lifetime, participants get to meet wonderful people and benefit from expert coaching for the 16-19 week program,” says Benson of Team Challenge. “It is an all around good experience.” Currently, Team Challenge has raised over $7 million dollars with 26 chapters nationwide. Like many voluntary health agencies, the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America is not a government-supported agency; it relies on the support of members and donors to continue the work started years ago. “One of the most surprising things I have come across is seeing our patients participate in our program and cross the finish line with us,” says Benson. “We are confident that the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation’s partnership with the Competitor Group for the inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon & Half Marathon will further elevate awareness of Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis and raise much-needed funds to ease patients’ suffering,” says Staci Brown, National Director for the Foundation. “Involvement in this energetic event will allow the Foundation to tap into new markets and reach new heights in its awareness- building and fundraising efforts.” The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training serves a similar purpose. LLS is the world’s largest voluntary health organization dedicated to funding blood cancer research and providing education and patient services. The tradition of raising vital funds for medical research through the vehicle of training for and completing a marathon started in 1988 when Bruce Cleland of Westchester County, N.Y. organized 38 people to train for the New York City Marathon. He and his dedicated team raised over $320,000 for blood cancer research in honor of his baby daughter Georgia, a leukemia patient. Renowned New Zealand runner Rod Dixon graced the sidelines coaching the team. In the area of providing a support network for the families and friends of those affected by cancer, Gilda’s Club of Seattle is another organization to look for on the charity training scene. I had a chance to speak with Anna Gottlieb – Executive Director and Founder of the organization. Gilda’s Club’s impact on the North West Region has been in full swing for 7 years now. “All seven years we’ve had programs, and we’ve reached over 80,000 people living with cancer or having family or friends dealing with it,” says Gottlieb. The work that Gilda’s Club has provided includes support groups, educational lectures and beyond. They even have a Cancer Education for Teens Program in local High Schools. “We’ve seen over 15,000 kids in our Health and Education Program classes over the last few years.” They are proud of the diversity in the organization, which includes support groups for all cancers at any stage and also a big survivorship
  4. 4. program. “What we’ve noticed is that when people are diagnosed with cancer they are much more interested in their health and exercise. Therefore, we have a half marathon that we do with Gilda’s Club. There are many, many studies that show exercise is really a great way to live with cancer,” said Gottlieb. “We started our teams for the Seattle Marathon about 4 years ago, and we’ve found that we had people do this half marathon while in treatment.” says Gottlieb. “Some have survived cancer many times.” Along the lines of what staff and participants involved in Team Challenge and Team In Training shared with me, staff at Gilda’s Club enjoy the sense of accomplishment and personal victory they see when patients and their friends and family overcome obstacles and achieve their personal goals. “This has been a very triumphant moment for people coming out of chemotherapy or even still in chemo. It’s such a wonderful sense to watch people helping and cheering for each other” says Gottlieb. Not only has this support and athletic endeavor challenged participants physically but also psychologically; Gilda’s Club makes sure their staff joins in the half marathon with participants to be a part of the group on a communal level. “What I liked about the idea of Gilda’s when we were creating it was that it wasn’t just for one cancer or person of cancer, it was also for the family members and friends and for the whole network because when you’re diagnosed with cancer everyone you know is diagnosed as well and it becomes a family ordeal.” “My biggest inspiration came from a woman named Kristin Johnson who called me up at the very beginning of starting Gilda’s Club and said to me “I’m 35 years old I have cancer and two young children, I don’t just have cancer every other Thursday from 2-4, I need some place to go everyday.” She’s guided me along helping me to see what people really need and what the challenges are for living with cancer”, says Gottlieb. To get some insight into what athletes experience when they take part in a charity training program, I spoke with Phil Cash, a resident of Washington for 6 years now who previously participated in other charity programs in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Wanting to get his feet wet when he arrived, he jumped into Team In Training and has now been a mentor for two years, volunteering his time and efforts. His main objective joining marathon running was linked to helping in charitable contribution efforts for the broader good “I could be working in a food bank, but it happens that running turned my life around and has been a good thing for me,” says Cash. With daily work schedules at a crunch when people view taking time for themselves to exercise as a selfish matter, Cash begs to differ: “If we can connect running to a more altruistic motive we can help get people motivated, people might be more eager waking up on a Saturday morning knowing they are fighting for a cure.” Running can create a positive lifestyle shift for people of all ages—one is never too old to start. Cash broke into the ranks at the age of 38. “I’m healthier, my weight is down, I quit smoking. Growing up I never was an athletic guy. By all objective measure with running now I notice I function better at work and am a happier person. Adding in the factor of the charitable aspect multiplies that personal fulfillment.” Some benefits of joining Team Challenge, TNT, Gilda’s Club or another charity training program include coaching and support in setting up a personal training schedule. This is especially helpful with most participants being new to endurance races. “From a physical
  5. 5. perspective they give the kind of support you would normally pay hundreds of dollars for —they have coaches to help you through injuries and pick our gear which is helpful for beginners.” Cash had his shares of troubles of bumps along the way but encountered the camaraderie of the running community during the last stretch of his the marathon. “I haven’t seen anyone throwing elbows during the race, everyone seems very collegial. People are terribly supportive too, I experienced an injury in the Portland Marathon and for a while every runner stopped by to see if I was okay and asked if I needed help. It almost became comical as I was shuffling along”. In conclusion this has been an immensely positive experience for me to be able to speak with such a diverse community of people who work for the same cause. I’d like to thank everyone participating and I hope you enjoyed reading this article. As a college student there are many challenging decisions facing us in selecting the right internship. I strived to find one that catered to my life interests, passions and everyday study of the Public Relations profession. TNT has provided just that for me, combining athletics with marketing a fundraising effort to find a cure for the broader good of humanity. For more information go to: The Competitor Group- Team Challenge- Gildas Club Seattle- Team in Training-