Much of life is self-fulfilling prophecy. If you don’t think you can do something, you tend to be correct 100% of the time. But if you do believe, Ah!, then no horizon seems beyond your reach. In many ways, and in many lives, the marathon has been the perfect metaphor to illustrate this point.
Last night one of the most notable programs in the marathon world celebrated its 25th anniversary with a gala dinner at the posh Intercontinental Hotel in L.A.’s Century City. Amidst a crowd of several hundred that included city leaders, school officials, program graduates, L.A. Marathon staffers, and long-time supporters, Students Run L.A. (SRLA) recognized the fruits of its first quarter century while seeding the next generation to follow.
The gala could not have been farther from the hard streets of L.A. on which over 54,000 at-risk secondary school students have trained for and completed the Asics L.A. Marathon as part of the SRLA program. But the distance between the two worlds has now been shown to be illusory, as well, as thousands of SRLA program graduates today move easily between who they once were and what they have now become.
No one showcased the SRLA success any better than the evening’s graduate speaker Ivania Zepeda. Brought up by a single-mom who put food on their table by running a street-side hot dog stand, Ivania took on the challenge of SRLA by running a total of six LA Marathons beginning at Virgil Middle School and then at Civitas Sol High.
Building success upon success Ivania became a Gates Millennium Scholar and recipient of an SRLA scholarship which she used to attend Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Currently a sophomore studying American and Portugese Studies, Ivania hopes eventually to attend law school and then serve as an advocate for her community. While a standout example, Ivania is only one of thousands of at-risk students who have taken on the SRLA challenge, and seen it help transform their lives. In its first quarter century SRLA has seen over 95% of its participants complete the L.A. Marathon — in 2014, 99% of the 3360 SRLA starters finished. What’s more, over 95% of the seniors who complete the marathon go on to graduate from high school and plan for a college career. Many SRLA grads represent the first in their families to earn a high school diploma, much less attend college.
SRLA began innocently enough after Boyle Heights High School teacher Harry Shabazian ran the first LA Marathon in 1986. What he learned was what many of his students would later discover, too, that the dedication and drive needed to train for and finish a marathon can change your outlook on life. And what is a teacher but a proselytizer? So Harry reached out to a number of his students who were labeled misfits and under-achievers, and challenged them to join him in the 1987 L.A. Marathon. Guess what? They not only finished the marathon, but went on to college and careers they once may have thought were beyond them.
And so it went. SRLA quickly picked up momentum and supporters. In the marathon’s third year two other teachers joined Harry, Eric Spears and Paul Trapani. By year five more than two dozen teachers from around the city had linked in with the SRLA program. Finally, in 1993 SRLA left the umbrella of the L.A. Unified School District and became an independent 501(c)(3) organization with a life of its own.
At last night’s gala, L.A. Marathon CEO Tracey Russell accepted the Founder’s Award from SRLA executive director Marsha Charney (see pic above), who helped establish the SRLA program in the L.A. Unified School District in 1989 before taking it private in `93. Over the years the LA Marathon has offered all 54,000 bib numbers to SRLA, a donation valued at over $5 million. And what an investment it has been. Costco was also recognized with the Catalyst Award.
Also on hand for the festivities was SRLA board member Larry Rawson who flew in from the east coast with wife Laura especially for the gala ceremony. For all the running community sees of Larry in front of the camera or behind the mic as one of the sport’s preeminent broadcasters, there has always been much more Larry does that goes unseen and under-appreciated. His work for SRLA is only one such example of Larry’s largesse.
$25,000 was raised in a flurry of raised hands as KTLA News Co-Anchor and gala emcee Chris Schauble asked, “who wants to help more kids run SRLA?” Then, long-time SRLA benefactors and underwriters for the evening’s gala Rebecca and Richard Lewis announced to the delight of all that they would match every dollar pledged, bringing the total to over $50,000. There was also a blind auction and a raffle that featured a Honda CRV, donated by Honda America, another long-time supporter of SRLA.
But the big winner of the night, as it has been over the last quarter century, is the city of Los Angeles. Today, a growing city of SRLA program graduates give moving testimony to the power of the possible as they live out their hard-gained understanding that life is what you make it, not what it makes you. All you have to do is fashion a goal, believe, and then keep putting one foot in front of another.