Austin Gives Miles

By Mason Wheeless – May 1, 2014
Photography by Roger Mommaerts

"I've learned that finishing a marathon isn't just an athletic achievement. It's a state of mind; a state of mind that says anything is possible.”  —  John Hanc

It is safe to say that the first time anybody decides to accept the challenge of running a marathon or a half marathon, she is working toward a goal that forever changes her. From the months of early morning runs to skipped late nights with friends, sore legs, and the occasionally chafed body part to the moment of crossing that finish line, the runner will have discovered many personal things that were previously unknown.

What if that accomplishment could also include the knowledge that each of those steps and all of that training was benefitting others as well? What if running was for both runner and charity, raising money with each hard-fought step for local causes like fighting illness to stopping abuse or feeding the needy?

Enter Austin Gives Miles (AGM), the philanthropy wing of the Austin Marathon and Half Marathon. The program works to provide nonprofit organizations with the opportunity to advance their missions through community awareness, volunteerism, and fundraising. As part of a core tenet of the selection process for prospective members, AGM looks for a combination of local organizations as well as national charities with a large local presence. So far this year, more than $95,000 has been raised for member charities.

“First, all runners are given the opportunity to make a one-time donation to one or multiple member charities during the race registration process,” said Carly Samuelson, program coordinator with Conley Sports. “The second way to become involved with one of the charities is by choosing to run on its behalf. By selecting that option, you may be asked to raise a minimum amount of funds, but you are given all the information and tools you need to succeed. Requirements for the programs vary by charity, but the fact that you are choosing to make your miles count is a constant throughout.”

In addition to the financial benefits from their involvement, charities are also given the opportunity to raise public awareness for their causes by providing volunteers on race day, simultaneously giving back to the community, and interacting with race participants in a very elemental way.

“The charities each bring out between 50 and 100 volunteers, who are then stationed all along the race course, from aid stations to the finish line,” Samuelson said. “The energy and enthusiasm each group provides is crucial to the overall spirit of our race, for the runners as well as everybody involved.”

Previously, the program was known as 26.2 Miles for 26 Charities; by changing the name, five more charities could be added, taking the total to 31. AGM also worked with to integrate the charity and fundraising options directly into the registration process for the first time.

Runners of the 2015 Austin Marathon and Half Marathon will have the opportunity to connect to an Austin Gives Miles charity during race registration. They may also visit to learn about the local organizations.

In 2006, Meredith Grower was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a chronic, autoimmune disease that affects the digestive tract, causing many painful and severe side effects.
“Shortly after that first year, my health took a turn for the worse. Not only was my physical health declining, but so was my mental health.  I felt isolated, depressed, and sick and tired of feeling sick and tired,” Grower said.

Then, in 2010, Grower found Team Challenge, a half marathon training and fundraising program for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America—one of this year’s Austin Gives Miles’ charities. She completed her first half marathon shortly thereafter and has been heavily involved in the organization since. Grower has continued to battle Crohn’s, undergoing a full colectomy in January 2013, but her spirits have been bolstered by the support and camaraderie she finds within the group.

“Although I would never wish Crohn’s disease on my worst enemy, I am happy to have been through all the challenges that I have [been through]. [They’ve] taught me not to take things for granted and to live my life to the fullest,” Grower said. “Because of Team Challenge, I found strength and courage to believe in myself and know that anything is possible with hard work and dedication.”

Grower completed the Austin Half Marathon on Feb. 16, raising money to help others fighting Crohn’s and once again proving to herself that she is stronger than any one setback she may face.

“In these past few months I’ve never felt better,” she said.



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