Play With Purpose
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Play With Purpose

Play With Purpose

by Beth Hagman

Although many fundraising programs help beginners achieve their first marathon or half marathon, even experienced runners can gain a new focus, infuse life into a stale routine and enjoy a sense of pride in helping others.

The premise is simple: You commit to run, walk, hike or cycle a particular event, and agree to help raise money for a charity in exchange for benefits, including training, transportation and support. The amount you must raise usually depends on the event and amount of support provided; each charity has its own minimums, and some even give awards to top fundraisers.

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the Arthritis Foundation and the American Stroke Association all offer comprehensive, nationwide training and support programs, but many other charitable organizations offer worthwhile options. Several are outlined below, but check events and organizations in your area for local programs, too.

Fred's Team
Fred's Team was created in honor of a person who died of cancer. The "Fred" in Fred's Team is Fred Lebow, organizer of the New York Road Runners and founder and long-time director of the New York Marathon. Diagnosed with brain cancer in 1990, Lebow was treated at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), where he was known to jog up and down the hospital hallways. Lebow encouraged friends and fellow runners to raise funds for cancer research. Fred's Team has raised $18 million in less than 10 years for the Aubrey Fund for Pediatric Cancer Research at MSKCC. Members participate in running events in the tri-state area and in marathons across the country and are encouraged to select an event that suits their interests and abilities.

American Stroke Association
The American Stroke Association's Train to End Stroke program is backed up with a strong team environment, emphasizing community teams and friendly social interaction. Each participant is paired with a mentor who has completed a Train to End Stroke event in the past, so you always have someone to answer your questions. You're also assigned a "Stroke Hero" if you don't already have one, to keep the larger goals of the organization as a constant inspiration. The system works - they've raised over $27 million for stroke research so far.

The training program is geared toward beginners, but no matter your goal or starting point, they offer full support including information sessions, expert coaching, weekly group workouts, training schedules, clinics on nutrition, fundraising and training techniques plus airfare & hotel accommodations for your chosen event and race entry.

Athletes Helping Athletes
In 2000, Mike Gotfredson, Chief Runner at Road Runner Sports, founded Athletes Helping Athletes, a non-profit charity foundation that provides handcycles to children with disabilities. Handcycles are expensive ($2,500 each) and out of reach for many families...and most are not covered by insurance. Through April 2006, Athletes Helping Athletes has given handcycles to 276 children. For most of these children, this bike is their first and may also be their first opportunity to be physically active. There are many ways to help AHA. You can simply make a donation, sponsor an event through your company or run or walk in the event of your choice to raise money for AHA.

Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation
The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation was created over 20 years ago to fulfill a promise to a woman dying of the disease. Komen's sister promised to do everything possible to bring an end to breast cancer. That led to the first Race for the Cure 5K fundraiser, which led to more 5Ks - and eventually to a fundraising juggernaut that has raised over $600 million, with more than a million participants worldwide and over 75,000 volunteers a year who work to make the events safe and fun. The funds raised go to local education, screening and treatment projects as well as to research.

It's an emotional event, and participants may wear signs to commemorate loved ones who are battling breast cancer - or who have lost the fight. Cancer survivors wear signature pink shirts and run and walk in astounding numbers. The distance is doable by just about anyone, so no training is provided. No travel or accommodations are provided since there's usually an event close by no matter where you live. The website offers photos and inspiration from other racers, as well as detailed information about events, their history and goals.

The Breast Cancer 3-Day event, an offshoot of the Race for the Cure, is a three-day, 60-mile walk that began in 2003 with three California events. In 2006, twelve events are taking place in major cities all around the country. Participants receive training and fundraising support. During the walk, sleeping tents, warm showers, all meals, entertainment and much more are provided. It's an "incredible mobile city," and walkers find it an uplifting and empowering experience.

Arthritis Foundation
Joints in Motion is the athletic fundraising arm of the Arthritis Foundation and offers a broad-based program suitable for all ages and fitness levels. Although 80% of their participants are "newbies," their 20-week training sessions offer plenty of support for experienced runners as well. In a nutshell, participants are entitled to detailed training schedules, weekly group walks/runs, ongoing support, clinics on footwear, nutrition and stretching. Event support includes airfare, accommodations & local transportation, race entry, team pasta and celebration parties and team gear.

Joints in Motion also offers a unique hiking program with varying experience levels and terrains. Events take place in Alaska, Dublin and Hawaii.

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society
Touted as the world's largest endurance sports training program, Team in Training (TNT) raises money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. At the 7th annual Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in San Diego, they reached their goal of $100 million raised at the musical marathons, pushed over the top by over 4,000 TNT participants raising $12.5 million. In 2006, TNT will train upwards of 30,000 people to run or walk a marathon or half marathon, cycle a century or complete a triathlon.

The training period can be four to five months and participants have access to certified coaches, clinics on nutrition, injury prevention, equipment and race strategy, training schedules for all levels of fitness, extensive fundraising support and an online newsletter. If you don't live near a training community, they even offer Virtual TNT, with experienced coaches and experts online and your own website to help your fundraising efforts.

You receive event travel, hotel accommodations and race entry - and TNT alumni reunions have become popular, too. Another important part of the TNT system is connecting participants with an honored patient, giving each a personal link to a local blood cancer survivor. Their courage provides motivation and inspiration.

So...are you willing to play with purpose?

About the Author: A former editor for Competitor Publishing and Fitness Runner Magazine, RAC member Beth Hagman is now a full-time author and freelance editor enjoying life in Ireland. She can be reached at

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