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Jeff Kolpack, Published May 02 2014

Kolpack: Run ... so others are able to run

FARGO - There were times over the seven years Judy Riley has taught immigrant elementary children in West Fargo when they would come to school with tennis shoes that didn’t fit or they didn’t have them at all. There were times she would stop at a local thrift store and pick some up for cheap or put out the call for hand-me-downs.

The last two years have seen some relief, however, with the Fargo Marathon’s “Shoes for Kids” campaign. Thanks to thousands of entrants in the Friday night 5K and generous matching corporate grants by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota, Dakota Medical Foundation, Discovery Benefits and Nike, the marathon has generated new pairs of Nike running shoes each year for kids in need.

It’s the behind-the-scenes story of the marathon that you really don’t hear about.

“It usually starts with this look that is like, ‘Is this for real?’ ” Riley said. “ ‘Can I keep them? Can I take them home?’ They’re very proud of them. You think about things immigrant children don’t have that American children do have and they don’t understand they don’t have those things because they don’t see those things. When they do get something like a brand new pair of shoes … they deserve new things, too.”

So far, about 2,000 running shoes have been dispersed to local kids. That means there are about 2,000 stories of kids who got a gift that wasn’t under a Christmas tree.

“They’re able to run and play like everybody else,” said Dawn Beil, a physical education and health teacher at Freedom Elementary in West Fargo.

These teachers are on the ground floor, the educators that have a pulse on which kids need shoes. Sometimes kids come to the teachers, but most often health and physical education instructors like J.D. Conklin at Eastwood Elementary in West Fargo just have a gut feeling a kid is in need.

“Their reaction is unbelievable,” Conklin said. “You should see them. One girl thought it was the greatest thing in the world and gave me a hug. A lot of times they don’t ask but we know their situations, especially the kids from different countries. A lot of them don’t have money and it’s just great to see their faces and smiles.”

If you have yet to involve yourself in this community event, there’s still time. The registrations for the marathon, half-marathon, marathon relay and 10K are closed. But you can still sign up for next Friday night’s 5K almost until the event starts and it’s a chance to make a difference.

It’s made a difference at Madison Elementary in north Fargo. If a kid needed shoes, one stop at the office took care of the issue.

“Yes, kids have definitely benefitted,” said Lydia Hillerson, a physical education teacher at the school. “It’s really been a good thing and it’s really helped our kids.”

The goal for me for so many years was to get the best time possible in any race. That changed about a decade ago not long after a St. Patrick’s Day 5K race. After a few marathons, a bunch of half-marathons, 10Ks and 5Ks, my right foot told the rest of the body that enough was enough.

See you later, alligator.

But just like a heavyweight boxer or Ric Flair, the running hiatus ended at the Fargo 5K last year. The big difference, of course, was cranking out the best time possible was not my motivation.

It was the “Shoes for Kids” campaign. It got me. It tugged at me. If a kid needed a pair of Nikes to get active, then by gosh I could hobble, walk, limp and at times actually run somewhat fluidly for 3.1 miles.

All I had to do was listen to these teachers for 30 seconds to realize it was all worth it. They’re the ones that see the appreciative smiles on kids’ faces.

“It’s just so worth it,” Riley said.

Fargo Marathon

When: Events start on May 8, with the marathon, half-marathon and 10K starting at 8 a.m. May 10

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia