Running is Sweeter as a Mentor
Running Volunteer Testimonial
“Can we stop and walk?” This was the third time that I had heard those words that morning. “Sure,” I said, secretly glad for the break. It was mile 5 and I was tired. I was running with Roberto, a member of the No Surrender Running Club. This was his first 10k ever and it was my job as his running mentor to get him through it, to challenge him, to encourage him.
Roberto started with No Surrender Running Club in the spring. This group works with inner city youth and helps them build health, life skills, and self esteem through long distance running. Many of these kids have difficult lives, they live in an area where it is not unusual for loved ones to be killed in gang warfare or to lose a brother or sister to drugs. There is very little to hope for in their lives and a lot of times, when things get tough, it is easier just to give up. Often they will show up for the evening long run without having eaten all day.
That is why some friends of mine started No Surrender. Think about all the things that long distance running has taught you: that some things are worth fighting for, that you can accomplish more that you think you can, that there is within you strength, character, worth, and hope. These are the same things that the kids involved in No Surrender learn as they train to complete a half-marathon—traits absolutely necessary for life.
Thus it was that I found myself struggling to keep up with Roberto that morning. I had asked him several times how he felt and every time he said “Good,” until this time. This time, he answered “It’s getting hard.” I laughed a little to myself and told him, “That’s absolutely normal. We have run over 5 miles. It is difficult now, but you are strong and we will finish this thing.” We kept running, but he eventually slowed to a walk. “See that telephone pole?” I said, “Let’s start running again there.” So we did. And little by little, we ticked off the last 1.2 miles. As we sprinted to the finish, I looked at the clock and saw the numbers 50:46 flash at me. As we crossed the line, I looked at Roberto’s face and his smile meant far more to me than the finishing time. He looked completely different than he did when we started! I could see the pride of accomplishment shining in his eyes.
That morning wasn’t about me or my time, I could have run faster on fresh legs, but it was about Roberto. Later, we found out that he had won 2nd in his age bracket, and as I watched him come forward to accept his medal, I couldn’t have been more proud. To know that I had a small part of making that medal happen was almost a better feeling than if I would have won it myself.
Running can feel empty at times. The relentless pursuit of better times, the muscle fatigue, the emptiness of achieving goals and wondering “What’s next?” It’s easy to lose sight of running’s ability to completely change a persons life. That day, running as a mentor, reminded me that at the end of a run, we really are different people than we were when we started.