Pounding the Pavement for a Cause: 5 Inspirational Runners

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Running is, at it’s core, a solo, and some might even say selfish, sport. Most of the time when you go for a run, you are running for yourself. You want to beat your best time, you like to run alone, you are trying to get more fit, you want to see how far you can go–the list of “just you” reasons to run goes on and on. That said, in my experience, runners are one of the most supportive groups of people you’ll ever meet. In every race I’ve been in, there has been at least one person who has encouraged me to push harder and to keep going. I even teamed up with a fellow racer for support to make it through the final 2.5 miles of our half-marathon. And, speaking of races, charity and races go hand-in-hand these days. There’s a charity run for pretty much everything–from supporting your local zoo, to finding a cure for cancer, to raising awareness for conditions like autism–and charity runners (runners who collect pledges for a specific cause) raise impressive amounts of money by completing races all over the country. Of course, there is always a select group of people who will go the extra mile (in this case, quite literally). Here are five exceptional people who, sometimes against all odds, ran for their cause:

fauja-singh1. Fauja Singh, Women’s Rights. Fauja Singh is an amazing man. At 101 years old, he is the world’s oldest runner. Known as the “Turbaned Tornado,” Singh didn’t start running until age 89, and, after 12 years of racing, he is finally getting ready to retire. He will be running his final marathon at the end of this month, but, before he retires, Singh has taken a stand for women’s rights in India. In light of the terrible rape that resulted in the death of a young Indian woman late last year, Singh participated in a race aimed at raising awareness for the rights and safety of Indian women, and has also spoken publicly about the issue. Despite being finished with racing, Singh maintains that he will not stop running, and plans to continue to run upwards of four hours per day.

terry-fox2. Terry Fox, Cancer Research. In 1978, Terry Fox, a 19-year-old athlete from Canada, was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma, a type of bone cancer that necessitated the amputation of over half of Fox’s right leg. Two years later, and still battling cancer, Fox, who was disappointed with the limited amount of funding given to cancer research in his country, attempted to run across the entire country of Canada to raise awareness and money for the cause. Sadly, Terry was forced to abandon his attempt after 143 days (5373 km) of running, upon discovering that his cancer had spread to his lungs. Fox passed away several months later in mid-1981. Despite not being able to finish his cross-country run, Fox raised an incredible $24.17 million, and his legacy lives on today with an annual Terry Fox Run. To date, this run, along with Terry Fox Runs that take place all over the world, have raised over $500 million for cancer research.

micah-true3. Micah True (AKA Caballo Blanco), Tarahumara Culture & Heritage. Micah True was an ultramarathoner made famous as the mythical Caballo Blanco in Christopher McDougall’s book, Born to Run. An admirer of the Tarahumara, and wanting to help them preserve their running culture, which was being threatened by the modernization of the area they call home, True was inspired to organize the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon, a race that draws competitors from both the developed world and regional Tarahumara tribes. The race not only offers cash prizes to the winners, but also awards 500 pounds of corn, a staple of the Tarahumara diet, to every finisher. Micah True passed away last year from a heart problem, but, sad as it may be, he passed away while he was out doing what he loved best–running.

switzer24. Kathrine Switzer, Women in Sports/Distance Running. In 1967, at a time when women were thought “too delicate” to compete in distance running events, then 20-year-old Kathrine Switzer changed the sport forever by becoming the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. Although there was nothing official in the rule book about gender, the race had, up until then, only been run by males. Because there was also nothing on the entry form regarding sex, Switzer was able to sign up for the race without any problems. It wasn’t until she was about 2 miles into the actual race that race officials finally realized she was there, at which point, the race director attempted to physically remove her from the race. Her boyfriend at the time, Tom Miller, who was running with her, blocked the man’s attempt to stop her and she went on to finish her first marathon, and become an inspiration to female runners everywhere. Switzer has now made a career out of fighting for opportunities and equality for women in sports, and the programs she has created were even influential in the decision to include the women’s marathon as an Olympic event.

Bruce-Cleland5. Bruce Cleland, Team in Training (Leukemia Research). Bruce Cleland is the original charity runner. In 1988, inspired by his 2-year-old daughter’s fight with leukemia, he organized a team of 38 runners to run the NYC Marathon in support of leukemia research. Each runner collected pledges, and all of them managed to cross the finish line that year, raising a total of $320,000 for blood cancer research. Today, this group is known as Team in Training, and is a nation-wide organization that has seen 540,000 runners compete in races in support of its cause. TNT has raised $1.2 billion dollars for cancer research for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and there are now countless other charity run programs for a wide range of causes that have been created using the TNT model. Cleland’s daughter, Georgia, defeated leukemia at a time when the chance of survival for a 2-year-old leukemia patient was only 55%. Now, in large part thanks to research funded by TNT, the survival rate is about 95%.

Have any runners inspired you to run for a cause? Do you have your own special cause? Tell us about them in the comments!

Images from FreeDigitalPhotos.net, HuffingtonPost.com, Canadian Press, Colorado Public Radio, and Competitor.