In 2009, Rhode Island state budget cuts led to the elimination of all cross country and outdoor track programs for public middle schools. In response, New England Distance, a non-profit organization with a mission to promote health and well-being among young athletes while providing support to elite professional distance runners, decided to step up to coach middle school runners for absolutely nothing in return.
Starting this fall, athletes from the Brown Running Club have had the privilege to volunteer along side New England Distance to coach cross country at middle schools around Providence. Three times per week, our athletes are running to nearby schools to lead runs, workouts, stretching, drills, and fun activities for eleven to thirteen year olds. This volunteer work has multifaceted advantages. Firstly, it engages young people in a sport that they would not otherwise be able to participate in due to state budget restraints in a community where after-school programs are scarce. Moreover, the program teaches its athletes about the importance of a healthy lifestyle at an impressionable age– participants in this program now have the knowledge and skills to take care of their own physical fitness. From the perspective of the volunteers, it also develops crucial skillsets, such as teamwork, leadership, and communication skills, all of which are essential for life after Brown (can someone say résumé builder?). Lastly, it also aligns with our mission of making running and racing competition more accessible and enjoyable to everyone at Brown and the greater Providence community.
All of our volunteers have simply raved about their experience with the youth development program. One of the volunteers, senior-captain Joy Jiang, stated, “I am humbled by this opportunity to give back to the local community. It has been an honor to able to share my love of the sport and train the next generation of runners.”
Who knows, maybe these young runners will be the next local Olympian like Molly Huddle? Even better, they might one day be part of the Brown Running Club.
For more information about the New England Distance Elite training group, and to learn more about the youth development program, visit http://nedistance.org.