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When I was 13, when I first started running, I knew I had the talent to one day be one of the best athletes in the world. I also know that I have a gift for helping others. Running is easy, but I don't know how to run for a good cause. It took me years to realize that sharing a run with others can be a win-win situation.
Michael Chiwood, founder and leader of World Vision, approached me after winning the men's marathon in 2008. His team raised funds to provide clean water to thousands of people in Africa who otherwise would not have access to clean water. They train, compete, and fundraise at various competitions across the United States to use their miles to serve the less fortunate. It dawned on me when Michael contacted me. I finally realized the connection between running and helping others. My wife Sarah and I ended up working with World Vision to provide clean water to 90,000 people in Zambia.
After the Beijing Olympics, I was in a very bad mood. My tenth place is not my dream. Two weeks off after the game and I needed some inspiration. So Sarah and I went to Zambia and visited a few communities where we helped with water. This is exactly the inspiration I need. This was my first trip to Africa and it was undoubtedly a life changing experience. Although they have very little stuff, I am blown away by how happy people are. They taught me that happiness does not come from possessions or wealth. It comes from relationships and community.
One of my lasting memories from that trip is a conversation with a villager at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for a drilling we funded. He told me that by bringing clean water to his village, we helped increase life expectancy from 30 to 40. While 40 is still young, getting a group of runners to train, fundraise and finish races together adds 10 years to a person's lifespan is incredible. It adds a deeper layer to the miles I've logged. After talking to that villager and learning about the significance of the hole, I thought of all the runners who have contributed in America, who are winners even on bad race days because they have brought years to those in need s life.
Win-win running is the best of both worlds: You win because of your physical performance, but others also win because of your run. After Sarah and I formed an initial partnership with World Vision, we started our own organization: the Hall Ladder Foundation. It's our way of giving back and encouraging others to do the same by running. Running can be a powerful tool for change: the physical and social changes in our bodies that make the world we live in a better place.
How can you help?
I want to encourage you to come up with the smallest and easiest ways you can turn running or conditioning into a win-win situation. You don't have to travel abroad to make a difference. Maybe paying upfront means going for a run with someone who has access to a training buddy; maybe it's taking your friend's kids to the track for a workout and their parents a date night; maybe it's opening in an underserved neighborhood nearby A running club. Taking the first steps small can get us started in the right direction and see how beneficial it can be to use our running to positively impact a good cause.
Besides staying in shape, there are plenty of ways to keep running. Start seeing it as a way to help others through every step of the way. Who knows, you might even benefit from changing your perspective. Of course, I've found that the more I help others, the more dynamic running is for me.