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Feats of Feet: Running with the Big Dreams


I read tales of inspiration and running regularly.  It gives me a tangible point of focus on long runs when I hit the “idea” stage, as my goals then tend to get a bit lofty (More than once at this stage I have dreamt of curing diseases, of running across continents and overthrowing regimes.).  So in an effort to channel this energy into some more realistic, usable form, I have decided to try focusing on what others have accomplished through their running.

One of my favorite inspirational success stories  appeared in the February edition of Runner’s World in an article by Ian Chillag called Running from Trouble. It is the story of how runner, Anne Mahlum managed to convince a group of homeless people she passed regularly on her runs through the streets of Philadelphia to come run with her and to train for a race; ultimately unfolding in a life-changing experience for them all, and leading to Anne’s creation of the non-profit, Back on my Feet,  an organization that promotes self-sufficiency for the homeless by engaging them in running.

Another favorite is of New York Running Coach, Toby Tanser’s creation of  Run for Peace,  a series of running events he organized in Kenya that helped heal a community and reestablish peace in the city of Iten, Kenya’s training mecca, after the violent aftermath of the elections of December 2007. In addition, Tanzer is currently attempting to raise the funds to build a hospital in Kenya through his Shoe4Africa non-profit. Despite the arduousness of the task, in the process, he has managed to create so much more (His website sports tales of creating health drives, women’s races in Kenya and Tanzania, building schools, forming a plant-a-tree campaign, a Malaria awareness project, even a women’s soccer team in the heart of Kibera).

There are so many great tales of runners successfully using their running for humanitarian efforts. These are only the first couple that come to mind. To me these runners are the gods I yearn to emulate, if but in my own meager way.  And yet I have not gotten far beyond the idea stage. I fear I still live largely inside my own head. What has been for me a highly effective safety device for years though, is no longer necessary, and sadly does not help me serve the world.

Though I have run some cancer research fundraisers, I am as much a newbie to fund-raising as I am to road racing, and perhaps short of saving my own skin and living to tell about it, I have yet to perform any even semi-heroic deed of my own involving running. I dream of it often, though, my elusive cause: of some overlooked enormous need suddenly presenting itself–calling for my long-distance runner’s slow and sturdy pace and tenacious eye fixed far on the horizon to bring it to the world’s attention, and proffer a remedy. I hope to get started at some point soon. But where exactly should I focus my efforts? In a vast sea of need, where can I effect the most change?

Sometimes I feel it has all been done.  What possible good could I do through running that someone else has not already attempted?  Some tell me to just follow my heart to whatever cause resonates, but I am passionate about so many things. And sometimes I feel it is simply that I am too passive about it. I wait for the opportunities instead of seeking them out. However,  in each of the cases I can think of, there have been circumstances that lead up to these runners’ opportunities.  Perhaps I simply have to ready myself and be patient.

When I read recently about these young humanitarians, American teenagers Phil Carlitz and Andrew Hudis and their efforts to help Burmese refugees by organizing a marathon just over the border in Mae Sariang, Thailand, I felt a strong urge to somehow get involved, though just how exactly, I am still a bit unsure.

My heart is in Burma–has been for many years–long story. I am hopeful the U.S.’s new policy of engagement effects some change. But even if, change on that scale takes some serious time, and meanwhile, the people still suffer. It is becoming more and more clear to me that I won’t rest until some of my energy has gone to helping ease at least some of the suffering there.  So I plan to get involved.  Somehow.  I’d love to go run the marathon. But part of me feels that the funds it would take to get me there and back would be better sent to the refugees. Might I not do better keeping my fund-raising efforts close to home?

Any suggestions?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jill permalink
    11/17/2009 17:18

    Hi Danielle–I have been following your blog and your question of the possibility of keeping your fund-raising efforts closer to home (along with what you say in your “Running for My Life” article) have been rolling around in my head. There is an organization called To Write Love On Her Arms that raises money and awareness for those who are struggling with depression, addiction, suicidal tendencies, etc. It has the attention of many young (well, and not so young, in my case) people and is on many people’s radars because, in part, of the bands Switchfoot and Anberlin. Their website documents how they are helping those who are struggling. Just an idea.

  2. 11/26/2009 18:45 is very cool. I wrote something on them for KidsPost a couple years ago. The woman who runs it is inspiring herself. She just saw a need and so started this organization. Def worth checking out.
    Love the blog Danielle!

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