If you’re an athlete or are passionate about fitness, I’m sure you have a high level of appreciation for what exercise and sports do for your body, mind, and overall health. But what about combining your love of fitness with volunteer activities to give back to the community? In fact, doing so may benefit your health even more – volunteering, giving and altruism are associated with:
- Lower mortality rates
- Lower rates of depression
- Positive health outcomes
- Improved immune function
- More life satisfaction
- Increased energy
- Less stress
Here are 5 volunteer activities that are perfect for runners and triathletes, since they are directly connected to the activities you love!
1. Lead kids in running activities through BOKS (Build Our Kids Success)
BOKS is a before school kids fitness program that strives to increase physical activity levels in children and get them ready to learn at school. Running is a part of each lesson. If you have a little time in the mornings to spare and enjoy working with kids, this program is a blast to volunteer with.
I’m all about additional avenues for physical activity for kids. While kids that play sports may not have a problem meeting physical activity guidelines, those who aren’t so sport-savvy may find it a bit more difficult. Couple that with the fact that only around 4% of schools provide daily phys ed classes, and you can see why programs like BOKS are needed.
You can get involved with this program by becoming a BOKS trainer and volunteering at a local school. You may find there is a school near you that already has a program started, or you may choose to work with a school that doesn’t to get one up and running. BOKS offers regular opportunities to become a trainer, where you can attend a free 4 hour session (t-shirt and meal included!) and learn about the program, how to structure classes, and actually play many of the games and activities that the kids would do. I’ve personally attended the training and it’s fabulous.
2. Volunteer some cheer at a local race
My first triathlon was at a turning point in my life. I had gone through a bad breakup, and used tri training as a way to shift my focus to something more positive. I showed up for that first race very nervous. Throughout the course, the one thing I remember was the positivity and energy of the volunteers cheering for me (and other racers of course). It really helped encourage me to continue to push myself and cross that finish line, which was one of the most amazing moments ever.
You can help motivate someone else just like that. You can volunteer at an aid station to hand out waters and cheer runners on. You can volunteer at the finish line to place those medals proudly on tired, accomplished athletes. You can volunteer as a swim angel to help reduce that first time triathlete’s anxiety in the open water. And of course, the list can go on and on.
3. Lead through running with Back on My Feet
Back on My Feet uses running to build self-respect and encourage real change among those experiencing homelessness. Residents in shelters and transitional facilities who want to join the program agree to commit to attending regular early morning (5:30am) runs. If a resident attends at least 90% of these runs for 30 days, they enter into the “Next Steps” program where Back on My Feet staff help them develop a road map to attain education and housing.
Volunteering to lead the morning runs is an excellent way of logging some miles while giving back. To get involved, find your local chapters on their website, attend a 60 minute orientation, and then decide on a regular schedule you can commit to (whether that’s once a week or three days a week!).
4. Empower and encourage with Girls on the Run
Girls on the Run teaches life skills through running games and lessons. The 10-week program culminates in a 5K celebratory run. The goal is to help girls appreciate physical fitness while simultaneously developing self-respect and confidence. The lessons utilize running as a tool to teach how to understand themselves, how to have healthy relationships and teamwork, and how to connect and influence the world as a whole. There are programs geared towards the 3-5th grade level as well as the 6th-8th grade level.
You can get involved with Girls on the Run through volunteer activities like becoming a coach or a running buddy. Coaches lead the 10 week program. The curriculum is already provided for you, so it’s up to you to just get out there and lead the sessions! If you’re not ready to commit to be a coach, you can volunteer as a running buddy for their final challenge –a 5K race. You run alongside your girl and help provide support and encouragement along the way, ensuring that she gets to that finish line.
5. Fundraise for a cause for an upcoming race
I did my first marathon through a program with Train to End Stroke, which was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Whatever cause you are passionate about – cancer, stroke, heart disease, disaster relief, etc – there is a charity out there that likely needs funds. Fundraising for a race on behalf of a charity can bring a whole new meaning to your runs. Fundraising is a whole other level of ‘race prep’, but when you successfully hit your goal it’s all worth it.
There are several organizations out there that do organized charity teams year round for various events, with Team in Training (leukemia/lymphoma) and Team Challenge (crohn’s/colitis) being two of the more well known options. You can also always reach out to a charity that doesn’t have an organized program and express your interest in fundraising for them.
Whatever you decide to do, I hope that these volunteer activities help fill your heart as much as they help others! 🙂