May-June 2019 Volunteer of the Month

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!

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ACHILLES KIDS VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH:
COURTNEY HINDLE

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!

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March-April 2019 Volunteer of the Month

ACHILLES (Adult) VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH
JESSIE RIX


How and when did you first hear about Achilles?

I first became aware of Achilles as I was running in Central Park near Engineers Gate. I noticed the bright neon yellow shirts. I wasn’t quite sure how to get involved until I came across the Achilles name on NewYorkCares.org. I registered to be a guide and after the first workout, I was hooked. I couldn’t wait for the next one! That was spring 2016.

When did you first become a volunteer?

I guided during the workouts every Tuesday and Saturday. The 2016 Hope & Possibility® race was the first race I guided Alison Lynch. I was thrilled when I got my first official ‘guide’ shirt!

What has that experience been like for you?

Incredible! Achilles has truly changed my life. It has made me a better person all around. Personally, professionally, and athletically I have grown.

Describe one or two special memories being an Achilles volunteer/guide

First, was guiding Melissa Blume through her first marathon! I was so nervous to run the marathon again, as my first experience wasn’t fantastic. I was thrilled - and anxious - when Melissa asked me to be her guide. I wasn’t sure if I could do it again! But Melissa inspired me and motivated me so much that I was able to believe in myself again! We completed the marathon together. Helping her achieve her first of many races was indescribable. Now she is like a machine and has completed six marathons and countless more races and triathlons!

Second, was guiding Alison Lynch through her first marathon too! When I first met Alison she never imagined she would run a full marathon. But it didn’t take long to convince her to try it. She was fearless! I was right by her side. She helped me reach my PR as well! In 2018, we conquered the Boston Marathon in the worst weather conditions we have ever experienced. Then the TCS New York City Marathon that November (for the second time). We make a great team!

Please name one or two athletes you have guided.

Alison Lynch, Melissa Blume, Anthony Butler

Is there anything you would like to bring to the public's attention about being an Achilles Guide?

Being a guide for an Achilles athlete is a huge responsibility. It is sometimes challenging. But, it is also an incredibly rewarding and a fun experience! It’s amazing having people come up asking how they can get involved. We can always use more guides and more volunteers. Achilles is fun, informal and social. People of all abilities -- running or walking -- can participate!

Mention a little about your own background.

I am originally from a small rural farming town called Fergus Falls, MN. I have been a runner pretty much my whole life. I spent a lot of time running outside with not much of anything around me besides corn fields – I would daydream about one day running across the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City! Eventually I moved to NYC and pursued a career in fashion, where I currently work as a Merchandising Strategist. Other interests and hobbies include traveling and meeting other runners/Achilles Chapters, spoiling my two little nieces Chloe, and Scarlett back home and summer trips at my parent’s lake house.

Anything else you might like to add?

Just a thank you for all you guys do in the office, day in and day out – you help to put on an amazing organization! I appreciate everything you guys do for all of us!!

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ACHILLES KIDS VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH
ANGIE MUSCO

How and when did you first hear about Achilles Kids?

I first found out about Achilles through New York Cares almost 13 years ago. I started off volunteering with the adult program and ran with Joe Bellantoni for his first (and my first) marathon. After the marathon I never wanted to run again! Ha! I’m joking…kind of! So I started volunteering with the kids on Saturdays at the Marlene Myerson JCC. About a year or so later, Megan Lombardo started the Central Park workout for the kids and I eagerly jumped on board.

I loved the idea of being outside in the park with the kids and giving them the chance to really run. I was so excited about the possibility of the kids running races and hopefully one day running in a half and full marathon. The first race the Central Park (CP) kids program did was the 5th Ave Mile. I ran with Julian Kane – his first race ever. Fast-forward several years, and in 2017 Julian ran his first half marathon and I was lucky enough to be by his side as his guide! It was an extraordinary moment in both of our lives! Noah Coopersmith, another runner in the CP program from the beginning, ran his first full marathon that year, too! To see how far the kids had come, what amazing runners they had grown into, and how determined they were, was truly special to witness.

What has that experience been like for you? Both as a volunteer and now as a volunteer coordinator of the Central Park Training Program?

I love running the CP program … especially because I now get to use a megaphone (thanks, Una!)! It’s always a thrill to watch the kids cross the finish line or to sign them up for one of the many races we do throughout the year. I do miss running with them on Saturdays. That’s been the toughest part about switching to the coordinator position. Luckily, I still get to run with the kids during races!!

Describe a few special memories you have of being an Achilles Kids volunteer.

Oh man, there are so many amazing memories it’s hard to decide!!! The half marathon in 2017 really holds a special place in my heart. As I mentioned, getting to run with Julian as he crossed the finish line of a 13.1 mile race was incredible!

One of the other kids running the half, Diego (aka Flash), had also been a part of the CP program from the beginning. I ran with him on a regular basis for several years. He was always fast (hence the name “Flash”!) but he didn’t have a lot of endurance when he first started. We had to jog/walk the length of the bridle path. So it was really amazing to see him go from barely being able to run 1.6 miles to running 13.1 miles. These days I can’t even run with him anymore because he’s too fast for me!

I also love every time we have new kids who think (or their parents think) they “aren’t runners” and then the kids cross the finish line in waaaay less time than they had imagined! The look on their faces when they realize they did it, they made it around, they ran – they are runners – that’s priceless!

What does being a volunteer for Achilles Kids mean to you?

Our motto says it all: Run for Fun. Run with Friends. Run to Achieve! All of that and more!

When there are a million things you could be doing on a Saturday morning here in NYC, what keeps you coming back?

The kids, hands down. I stand at the finish line to cheer the kids across the line, record their time and make sure they are reunited with their parents. So, I get to see their faces when they see the finish line in sight and hear everyone cheering their names. Their faces light up and you can see how proud they are. I’ve been standing on that finish line almost every Saturday for over 2 years, watching hundreds of kids cross and yet, it still brings tears to my eyes and overfills me with joy every time.

If someone was interested in volunteering for Achilles Kids, what would you tell them?

Do it! Immediately! You won’t regret it. Let me put it this way, this winter we ran in 20 degree weather (not including the wind chill!) on a Saturday morning and we had 30 guides show up! Why? Because running with the kids is soooo much fun and soooo rewarding. The only time our guides aren’t smiling is when they’re running their butts off to keep up with their kid (we have some really fast kids)! But as soon as they finish and they catch their breath, the smiles come back. The kids are truly extraordinary!

Mention a little about your background.

A little about me… I’m originally from Detroit but I’ve been in NYC for almost 13 years. I consider myself a New Yorker now! I’ve been volunteering with the Achilles program almost as long as I’ve been here and I have been volunteering as the coordinator for the CP program for about 2 years. My “real” job is in entertainment. I’m an actor, writer, producer, and author. My first children’s book The Face Behind the Mask, a biography about the first and only woman to play in the NHL, will come out in the fall of 2020. My husband, Mike, comes to most workouts and can usually be found running with the fastest kids! One of the parents recently gifted me with a megaphone to use at the workouts – maybe the single best gift I have ever received! I can’t believe I’ve gone this long in my life without having a megaphone to project my already loud voice. See, Achilles Kids is life changing in so many ways!

Anything else you might like to add?

Our Kids program would not have grown to how big it is or be as successful it is without the love, dedication, and commitment from all of our volunteers! This program is entirely run by volunteers and they are the backbone of what we do. I am truly grateful for all of our returning volunteers who come back Saturday after Saturday despite the rain, cold, or humidity. Achilles Kids would NOT exist without Karen Lewis. She is the heart and soul of the entire Achilles Kids program and a true superhero. She is an unsung hero who deserves so much praise and thanks for all she does for Achilles. I absolutely could not run the CP program without Karen, Carolyn Wynne, and Theresa Molloy. They are extraordinary women who give so much of themselves and their time to the kids. Next time you see them, give them a big hug and say thanks because we wouldn’t be in the park on Saturdays without them!

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