Many athletes will race with the goal to break their personal records and compete to get the gold. However, there is a significant number of athletes who compete and/or engage in fitness, not just for their own benefit, but also to raise money or help organizations that give back to the community.
During this season of giving, AFM wanted to highlight a few Austin events and organizations that have gone the extra mile to give back to the community through fitness.
Put on by the Young Men’s Business League, the H-E-B Austin Sunshine Run is held annually to benefit Austin Sunshine Camps, which is an overnight, summer camp experience for underinvested youth in Central Texas.
“The genesis behind the Austin Sunshine Run was trying to come up with another way to bring attention to and financially support the Austin Sunshine Camps,” says co-director of the Austin Sunshine Run, Jase Burner.
Austin Sunshine Camps hosts children ages 8 to 15 and, because of the proceeds from the Sunshine Run, is free for those who live in Travis, Williamson, Hays, Caldwell or Bastrop county and meet the qualifications listed on their website.
“During non-COVID years, we have these great, week-long summer camp programs where they try all these new things in a safe environment where we kind of push kids to try things and make new friends, foster new learning experiences and things like that — really kind of help them come out of their shells and get those summer camp experiences that are so very important for kids,” Burner says.
In 1928, Austin Sunshine Camps was originally created because people thought, back then, that sunshine and exercise were a great way to counteract tuberculosis, Burner says.
“I think that’s something that just kind of incidentally carried through, but Austin’s a very fit city. Most of our members are very involved and active in the community,” Burner says. “We’ve just continued to grow it ever since.”
Each year the H-E-B Austin Sunshine Run gets bigger, with 2019 being the most successful race yet, raising around $70,000 for Austin Sunshine Camps, Burner says.
For their 2021 event, the H-E-B Austin Sunshine Run is planned for May 16, with both in-person and virtual options.
“As we’ve been gearing up for 2021, we’ve decided we want to take what we’ve learned in 2020 and build on that. So we’re still going to have a virtual piece, but we’re very hopeful that we will actually get to all gather on May 16 at Auditorium Shores and run in-person,” Burner says.
Offered in 13 cities across the US, Back on My Feet is a nonprofit organization dedicated to combating homelessness through running, community support, essential employment and housing resources, according to their website.
“We use running and community as the catalysts to really help our members move their lives forward,” National Marketing Director Kari Lindemann says. “Stable employment and stable housing is really the end goal of everything that we do, and running is that thing that really sparks the community in the mornings three days a week.”
Around 5:30 a.m., three days a week in Austin, volunteers or alumni lead a Back on My Feet running group. During these morning runs, members are connected to volunteers to build meaningful relationships.
“You start running with someone, and these conversations are just organic,” Lindemann says.
In their Austin chapter, Development Director Rebecca Little says she has seen members go from trying to run to the end of a block to running a half marathon.
“Running provides them with not only a community of support but also a sense of accountability — a goal to work towards,” Little says.
By including running in the program, Little says this goal-setting practice eventually translates into their careers and life goals.
After regular attendance during their morning runs, members then have the opportunity to enter Back on My Feet’s Next Steps program, which is an opportunity for members to sit one-on-one with program staff and identify the barriers that stand between them and getting back into the workforce.
In Austin, Back on My Feet offers opportunities to work on interview skills, work on resumes, learn financial literacy skills and more, Lindemann says.
“It really is an individualized approach based on what that member’s goals are, what do they want to be when they grow up, or what do they want to be now or what do they need right now to get to that piece,” Lindemann says.
Originally founded in 2014 as a youth organization and after-school program, It’s Time Texas has since evolved into a nonprofit dedicated to empowering Texans to lead healthier lives.
Over the last six years, the Austin-based organization has expanded their footprint to more than 125 counties across the state of Texas, Senior Director of Marketing and Communication Tracy Walker says. The organization works to connect Texans to health-promoting resources, such as their new, bilingual, health-coaching program that is available over the phone and even via text.
In addition, the health coaching service is available to any Texan for free, Walker says.
“We’re fortunate to have such a vibrant health community there in the Austin area, but not all Austinites have access,” Walker says.
In 2019, It’s Time Texas reached more than 5,900 Central Texas youth and adults who participated in their free fitness and nutrition programming called Stronger Austin, Walker says.
“Our one goal is really to bring health to everybody, and through that, we need your support. Whether that comes from becoming a volunteer instructor or hosting a fundraiser or becoming a coach — if you have a passion for health and fitness and nutrition, we need you and we need your support,” Walker says.
After Mark Garza found out how hard it was to navigate getting help during his own experience with a cancer diagnosis in his family, Garza wanted to create a medium that would provide access to mental health services for those affected by cancer.
“We created the organization when I saw how hard it was to remove barriers to access by creating a network of therapists in the Austin area that could provide care,” Garza says.
The goal of the foundation is to raise as much money as possible for it to cover the entire cost of therapy, so families can focus on taking care of their mental health, Garza says.
“With the Flatwater Foundation, [it’s] the notion of bringing these families back to flat water and that calm, tranquil space,” Garza says. “We also realized that a big part of taking care of your mind is staying active.”
After finding his own accidental meditation on the water through paddleboarding, Garza decided to use that as a tool to raise awareness around mental health and the organization. In 2010, Garza created a PR stunt he named Dam That Cancer, where he paddled 21 miles from the Mansfield Dam to the Tom Miller Dam on Lake Austin.
Ten years later, now called TYLER’s Dam That Cancer, the fundraising fitness event is still held annually, and Flatwater Foundation has covered over five million dollars worth of therapy for families in need throughout Central Texas, according to their website.
For this year’s event, Flatwater Foundation raised over $830,000, surpassing their $750,000 goal.
“There are so many ways in Austin to be active, and we just really believe in empowering people to use whatever it is, whatever their passion, to get outside, whatever sport it may be, for the greater good,” Garza says. “And we appreciate all the support that Austin gives. It’s the perfect place to marry health, wellness and fitness with philanthropy.”