As a runner you rely on your feet, and your feet rely on your shoes. Now imagine you didn’t have a choice as to what type of shoe you had to run in. You might have to wear a pair of sneakers with holes at the toes, or a pair of heavy boots, or basketball shoes two sizes too big. Most of us would say, ‘I can’t run in these.’ But for 80 kids who are training for the Virginia529 Kids Run, the partner youth race to the Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10k on March 28, there isn’t another option.
Kids Run RVA, a program of Sports Backers, promotes physical activity to youth across the Richmond region and encourages more kids to get moving more often. By encouraging children to have a positive outlook on physical activity, Sports Backers hopes area kids will develop healthy habits that will continue into adulthood. Kids Run RVA organizes 35 school and community run clubs in the area. The kids participating in these run clubs are often from underserved neighborhoods and lack one key component for running—proper shoes.
With both fall and spring events, Kids Run RVA provides new running shoes for the participants who need them the most. This year marks the largest group of run club participants training for the Virginia529 Kids Run, which in turn means the 2015 shoe spend is also the largest. In an effort to provide 80 pairs of shoes to area children, Kids Run RVA has launched ‘Kicks for Kids’, a campaign that gives anyone the opportunity to make a donation, of any amount, in hopes of reaching a $4,000 goal by February 24.
Kids Run RVA’s Community Fitness Engagement Specialist, Jacki Quinlan, has coached these run clubs before and said that while a pair of shoes may not seem like anything special, the impact it has on the kids in the program is profound.
“There’s just a pride factor with them showing up to the race wearing a new pair of shoes,” Quinlan said. “They feel like, ‘Wow, I’m a real runner, I’m ready for this,’ versus wearing an old beat-up pair of shoes that aren’t even made for running and just making do with it. I think some kids don’t even realize that they’re not well-equipped. That’s just what they have. New shoes make them feel like a real athlete. I think it’s key.”
Both Quinlan and Youth Programs Director Faith Hecht have witnessed just how appreciated these new shoes are and how much of a difference they can make. Quinlan recalls how after a shoe distribution last fall she noticed one young girl’s sneakers still looked brand new. Fearful that the shoes weren’t being worn, or didn’t fit, she asked if there was something wrong with them. The girl responded that there was nothing wrong with the shoes; in fact, it was the opposite. She loved them so much she was only wearing them to school and run club and then taking them off to clean them every night before bed.
“Some of them have never seen a new pair of shoes. There’s stuffing down in the shoes, and some of them come up to me and say, ‘Coach Jacki, what’s this stuff in my shoe? I can’t put my shoe on,’” Quinlan said. “I tell them, ‘Well it’s the stuffing, you’ve got to take it out.’ So I took it out for them, but that just made me realize they’ve never seen a new pair of shoes.”
Hecht remembers seeing another young girl who received a new pair of shoes after running in her sister’s hand-me-downs, which were two sizes too big. She kept insisting that her new shoes were too small and worriedly asked Hecht to check the size. The new kicks were indeed the right size, a proper fit just wasn’t what she was used to.
Despite some of the challenges they face, the kids at run clubs are always ready to pound the pavement, often asking to run up hills and for more challenging workouts. Hecht particularly enjoys socializing with the kids and seeing how they take it all in stride.
“Just talking to the kids as you run is hysterical because you ask them random questions, and the stuff that they come up with is just funny. It just gives you a giggle,” Hecht said. “I have my own kids, but they’re a lot older now, so I don’t really remember what it was like when they were that young. So it’s just fun, just the joy that they have being outside and running. The little things make them really happy.”
Help us make one of those little things a new pair of shoes so that these children can keep running.
You can donate to Kicks for Kids through February 24. Help this amazing group of kids fall in love with physical activity by getting Kids Run RVA to their goal of $4,000!