ACHILLES (ADULT) VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH
ANNA RHEA LEWANDOWSKI
How and when did you first hear about Achilles?
It was 2010, when I moved to New York City. I had seen the Achilles shirts during races and was introduced to Achilles a few years later while managing the Upper East Side Jack Rabbit store. When Achilles member Suleiman Rifai came in we would practice my Swahili. He explained that as a blind runner he ran with a variety of guides and encouraged me to come out and join.
When did you first become a volunteer/guide?
In 2015, just as Nicoletta Nerangis was starting the Achilles Brooklyn Chapter. I was managing the Park Slope store and fell in love with the group as Jack Rabbit hosted them on Thursday night workouts. I loved the energy and warmth of the group. Occasionally, I would get out for a run at the end of the night and see Achilles in the park, cheer them on and walk back to the store with them. It was John Pierre (aka
“The Ultimate Running Machine”) who asked me to join when they were short on guides. I was hooked immediately. Within weeks my schedule was rearranged and I joined, officially, as a guide.
What has that experience been like for you?
Joyous, heart-warming and humbling. I took for granted that I could head out for a run whenever I wanted -- last minute and in any weather without concern. Guiding reminds me of the logistics many athletes have to coordinate to get in their run (from Access-A-Ride, finding a guide, being aware of outside factors such as lighting, running surface, etc). The Brooklyn chapter has become like a family to me. I love that Achilles supports athletes of all abilities and champions every accomplishment.
Describe one or two special memories being an Achilles volunteer/guide.
Running the New York City Marathon with John Pierre and co-guide Jen Lotito was incredible. The crowd support for Achilles was unmatched and hearing all the cheers for “The Ultimate Running Machine” was energizing. The Brooklyn chapter birthday/anniversary celebrations have all been amazing; seeing the group grow and hearing the testimonials of its positive effects from both guides and athletes.
Please name one or two athletes you have guided.
I most often guide Jenny Hwang and John Pierre--especially for races---but have been able to guide many others for workouts. Getting to know the Queens and NJ chapter athletes has been awesome. We have so many all-stars in the NYC-NJ area!
Is there anything you would like to bring to the public's attention about being an Achilles Guide?
We can always use guides for all paces, all distances! You don’t need special training or background and you can come as frequently (or infrequently) as works for your schedule! As every athlete is different and has unique needs, guiding looks different for every athlete-guide pair. Half the fun is learning about what works for you and your athlete and seeing who you fit with best!
Mention a little about your own background.
I’m originally from Wisconsin where I ran track and cross country in high school. I was never competitive and always ran for the social aspects and health benefits. Although my academic background is in African Studies, my work in NYC has always been health and fitness focused. I love being outside and will run in any weather. Bring on the snow and rain—I love it!! I melt in heat and humidity, though! (But I’ll still run).
Anything else you might like to add?
Achilles is awesome!
ACHILLES KIDS VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH:
How and when did you first hear about Achilles Kids?
I was running in one of my first New York Road Runner races and as I was running I would watch as these incredible athletes and their guides in their bright yellow shirts would run by with everyone in the crowd cheering them on. I loved the sense of community it created around the race and knew I had to be a part of it!
When did you first become an Achilles Kids volunteer?
I began running with Achilles back in 2016. It’s been such an amazing experience where I’ve met so many amazing runners, volunteers, and become an even better runner.
What has that experience been like for you?
It’s hard to put into words, but the experience has been everything! How do you explain the feeling of excitement when you’re humming along to Bruce’s Born to Run through the loud speakers right before you take off with a runner at the Dash to the Finish Race. Or, that excited/nervous shared energy you have when helping your athlete put on their first race bib. And the feeling of happiness when realizing that an athlete you have run with many times has become faster than you and you better step up your game –shout out Christine!! You are amazing!
The kids and the entire Achilles community motivate me every day to run. And those moments when I see the Achilles team cross the finish line makes me overjoyed for what everyone’s accomplished. Running with Achilles has changed my life in more ways than I’ll ever know!
Describe a few special memories you have of being an Achilles Kids volunteer.
My favorite moment happens every week on our Saturday morning runs. No matter if it is pouring rain or so cold you can see your breath – there is this moment when you turn the final corner on the bridle path, and you can hear Angie Bullaro along with the parents and volunteers cheering on the kids as they take on the final stretch of the run. The athlete I’m running with always picks up their speed and you can feel the love and support from everyone—I’m usually dead sprinting by the end to keep up with the athlete who is just so excited by the support they are receiving!
Let me try not to cry emotional tears on my keyboard right now…too late...it’s happening…I’m crying. I’ve just been so lucky to have the chance to meet so many incredible kids. Shortly after I started at Achilles, I began running with an athlete named Julian and he is truly wonderful through and through. I hope everyone gets a chance to meet and run with him. I loved every workout running through the park discussing Taylor’s Swift’s latest album (we also love Katy Perry as well but just haven’t been a fan of her recent releases) and talking through whether or not the Mets will have a better season this year (they will Julian, they will!). We’ve run through the muddiest Riverside Park races (worth it though for that hot chocolate finish!) and the hottest Achilles Hope and Possibility® races—and every workout, every race has been simply the best. I’ve really loved seeing him push himself (and me) each time we ran, and those conversations were always the best part of my week.
Another moment I will never forget was this past March alongside fellow guide David Honick. We were lucky enough to run the United Airlines NYC Half with an incredible athlete named Maxi in his first-ever half marathon. Maxi trained all winter long in the toughest conditions, working harder and harder every practice. Maxi proved you can do anything you set your mind to and on race day he was amazing! He not only inspired me but you could see him inspiring the hundreds of runners he raced past. Never once did Maxi stop running during that race and I’m so lucky and thankful that I got to share that experience with him. Being with him as he finished the race, getting to see him hug his amazing and supportive mom on Columbus Circle, after all that work and conditioning was such a special moment!
What does being a volunteer for Achilles Kids mean to you?
My favorite piece of clothing I own is my bright yellow Achilles guide t-shirt because of the great organization it represents. It means so much to me.
When there are a million things you could be doing on a Saturday morning here in NYC, what keeps you coming back?
The kids of course! Yes, they are incredible, talented and inspiring individuals. But they are SO MUCH fun! They will tease you, challenge you, and it’s the most fun anyone can have any day of the week!
The parents –they are so caring and kind. They are working every Saturday morning to make sure their child comes to Achilles and I love getting the chance to spend time with the parents and their kids.
Lastly, our incredible organizers—I mean you just need to come and meet them because they are everything - Angie, Carolyn Wynne, Theresa Molloy, and Karen Lewis. Every Saturday they create the most welcoming and supportive community. They are these incredible guiding lights and strong women. They are the heart that keeps this program running the way it does.
If someone was interested in volunteering for Achilles Kids, what would you tell them?
Sign up right now!...We will wait…Did you do it? Why are you waiting! You can be a casual new runner, or a marathoner, there is a place for you at Achilles Kids. This is the most welcoming group in the city. Get ready to be inspired, motivated, and moved by every kid, parent, organizer, and volunteer you meet.
Bonus - You also get to have an awesome work out in Central Park while most people are still sleeping! I mean can it get any better? I don’t think so!
Mention a little about your background.
I’m a Jersey native and now a New Yorker! I work in marketing for a children’s TV show, love pizza (my love of pizza is also what additionally motivates me when training on longer runs), and am ready to discuss this latest season of Game of Thrones at a moment’s notice (why did Dany do that?!)
I’ve always loved to run but Achilles has taken my love to a whole new level!
Anything else you might like to add?
Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to everyone that works day in and day out to make Achilles the organization what it is today!