ACHILLES (Adult) VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH
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!!
ACHILLES KIDS VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH
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!