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This is my cousin Ryan. He might as well be my brother. He was born on August 2nd. I was born on August 5th. Situated just in the middle of my sister and I age-wise, we were once the three musketeers of Virginia Beach.  Fast-forward 20-some years and Ryan is still living an “all for one, one for all” kind of life. This time around, however, there are far more than just three musketeers.

Ryan now lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife Gina and their kitty Frisco. He’s been working for the New York Road Runners, you know the organization that puts on that little race called the New York City Marathon (!!), for  almost three years now. As the Assistant Manager of NYRR’s Team for Kids program, Ryan has the privilege of helping to provide FREE running programs for thousands of students at underserved, underfunded New York area schools.  In an era where physical education programs are going the way of the buffalo, the work Ryan does is becoming more and more important to the health and well-being of the students Team for Kids benefits.

I happened to be visiting Ryan on his first day of work at NYRR and have been intrigued by his job ever since! So, I asked him to share a bit about the mission of Team for Kids, his experience with students, and how you & I can get involved in helping our youth become passionate about physical activity!

Nourish:: What is the mission/reason for TFK?

Ryan:: Our mantra at NYRR is “Run for Life” and our mission is to “Give everyone a reason to run.  Running takes your body, mind, and spirit to a better place.  The simple act of putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward can make you healthier, happier, and more confident.  Like the starting horn at a race, we want to be the GO! that gets people running for life.  At NYRR, it is our goal to give everyone on the planet both a reason to run and the means and opportunity to keep running and never stop”.  NYRR is the foremost running organization in the world, with the ING NYC Marathon as our premier event and over 50 road races in NYC throughout the year, including the NYC Half and the Brooklyn Half.  Putting on fun and well organized races is an important part of what we do, but we consider ourselves much more than event organizers who put on great races.  We aim to build communities of runners and started providing free youth-running programs to underserved communities of NYC in 1998.  We have two primary programs – Mighty Milers and Young Runners.

Mighty Milers is our elementary level program where kids get their own website, set running goals for the year, and track their progress towards those goals.  They also receive incentives and medals when they reach those goals.  One thing we’ve learned is kids love earning their medals!  Watch this video to see Mighty Milers in action!

Young Runners is our middle school program and operates much more like a high school cross country team.  The kids in this program train for distances of a mile to a 10K.  Both programs use running to promote children’s physical fitness, character development, and personal achievement.  What started in NYC is now in all 50 states, South Africa, and Ethiopia serving approximately 110,000 children.

To serve 110,000 children, millions of dollars must be raised.  The purpose of Team for Kids is to support and ensure that these programs are provided for free to underserved schools.  This is a little tricky, but Team for Kids is actually a team of adults who fundraise in support of NYRR Youth Programs while training for premier running races.  For example, there are 1,600 amazing individuals who are running the 2012 ING NYC Marathon with TFK.  They each are committed to raising at least $2,620 ($100 per mile) and in return, receive a guaranteed entry spot into the race and enter our training program.  NYRR Youth Programs wouldn’t exist without TFK runner’s fundraising support.

Nourish:: What kind of impact have you seen on the kids who participate in NYRR Youth Programs?

Ryan:: I am really glad that my career with NYRR began as a Young Runners Coach because I was able to see the impact of our programs every day.  The toughest team I coached was in East New York, Brooklyn and one kid at this school particularly stood out.  We’ll call him “U” and he was a big trouble maker on that first day.  He mocked everything I tried to get the team to do, or wouldn’t bother participating at all.  I left that first practice feeling like I just got punched in the stomach and was a failure as a coach.  As weeks went by, I could tell the kids appreciated me coming back and enjoyed having a running team and a coach that they could count on.  It was especially great to see U, who was a little punk that first day turn into my right hand man and the leader of the team.  He learned all of the warm-up and cool-down stretches and led the team in drills.  It’s usually true that the kid causing the most trouble in school is usually the one wasting the most potential and it was really cool to see U turn into the leader of the team.

Another instance when I saw the impact of our programs was while coaching a team in the Bronx.  There was a really sweet and smart kid who joined our team named “S”.  He was shorter than 5 feet tall and weighed over 150 lbs.  On his first practice he stopped running and called me over.  He was scratching his arms and legs and kept asking “Coach, why am I so itchy?”  Of course, I didn’t tell him it was because he was overweight and his fat was jiggling around.  I explained that it will go away as he gets in better shape and his body gets used to running.  At one of our last practices of the school year S pulled me aside and said “Hey Coach, everyone joked on me for joining the track team because I was fat, but I knew I had to run to lose weight so I joined anyways.  I’ve lost weight and I must be getting into good shape because I don’t get itchy any more when I run.”  It was so powerful to see a sixth grader make a decision to improve his life regardless of whether he was made fun of or not.

Nourish:: What about the schools that host NYRR Youth Programs? Do you see impact there?

Ryan:: Yes, we’ve heard from teachers that they immediately know who the good kids are in their class by whether or not they’re on the Mighty Milers or Young Runners teams.  For a lot of the kids, it’s their first time being on a team and participating in an organized sport.  That experience gives the kids a sense of school pride and another reason to be excited about going to school.  The biggest impact our programs have on the schools is leadership at the school embracing the importance of physical activity.  Most of the schools that participate in our programs didn’t offer any physical activity whatsoever before our programs.

Nourish:: What’s the best part of your job?

Ryan:: It’s hard to pick the best part of my job so I’ll mention a few.  My main responsibility is to ensure that TFK runners have an amazing fundraising, training, and race day experience.  Running in Central Park with the team is definitely one of the best parts of the job.  The TFK runners are the best people in the world and I love that my job allows me to meet and run with them.  After training with them all season, it’s so amazing on race day to see them cross the finish line.  I am always inspired by the stories of our runners.  From an 80 year old woman running her first marathon to people shedding over 100 pounds and running their first marathon, it’s an amazing experience to be a part of their journey.

I also love working at NYRR Youth Running Events.  We have track and cross country events that are completely free for kids and host anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 kids from underserved neighborhoods.  To see kids run their first mile or first 5K and to see how proud they are of themselves is pretty awesome.

Nourish:: How can people near and far get involved with NYRR and TFK?

Ryan:: First, you can donate to support our youth running programs here. Secondly, if you know anyone who’s interested in either running with Team for Kids or starting a NYRR Youth Program at a school in your area, please contact us at teamforkids@nyrr.org.  Finally, just go run.  Running is changing lives more than any other sport there is and NYRR is leading the way.  If you’re ever in NY, sign up for one of NYRR’s weekly races here or set the ultimate goal of running the best race in the world – the NYC Marathon.