RUNVAN has a legacy that began in 1972, when 32 people, including two women, ran the first-ever Vancouver Marathon, a lap course, in Stanley Park. The marathon has evolved over the last five decades to become their marquee race, the BMO Vancouver Marathon, one of the largest in Canada. RUNVAN, a non-profit group, organizes several races annually, including the marathon, with a mission to deliver premier running events that inspire active lifestyles and invite the world to experience Vancouver.
In 1996, the organization created run4hope as a way to support local charities. To date, they have helped runners raise more than $15 million for various charitable causes. While the program began as a way for runners to give back, the initiative has also helped RUNVAN broaden their reach by working directly with local communities. RUNVAN is one of the few organizations to offer discounts for youth, students and seniors. “We are proud of the work we do within the community,” says Race Director, Eric Chéné. “We offer numerous initiatives, including assisting aspiring elite athletes, youth, participants with disabilities and those who may face financial barriers that limit their participation in the sport.”
One example is StreetFront, an alternative education program in Vancouver that emphasizes physical activities and outdoor experiences. “RUNVAN has been a partner with us, supporting our efforts and the kids as they achieve their dreams,” says StreetFront representative Trevor Stoke. “It’s a really wonderful experience, and I’m so proud we get to be part of such a glorious partnership.” Chéné concurs, “our long-time relationship with StreetFront provides structure for StreetFront youth and also benefits RUNVAN, as their team also contributes back through volunteerism, including helping to organize medals for race day.”
RUNVAN school outreach initiatives include youth-led fun runs, that train kids to push themselves and their limits. “These runs are organized by student leaders who represent RUNVAN as Youth Ambassadors within their communities. The fun runs focus on creating low-barrier social running experiences for youth,” Chéné says. “We believe physical fitness can be used as a means to help bring about personal and academic success,” adds Chéné. The RUNVAN team started a new Youth Community Ambassador program with one school in 2016 and has more than quadrupled the program to date.
They have also started several youth “Run Club” programs at local secondary schools for grades 8 through 12. “It’s a means for students to run as a collective, regardless of speed, talent, experience or ability,” says Constable Mariya Zhalovaga, the Vancouver Police Department’s school liaison officer for Windermere Secondary, and one of the founders of the Windermere Run Club. “In other words, youth who may never qualify for any track team or who may never even dream of trying out, are encouraged to attend program sessions and continue to run simply because they enjoy it.”
“Youth who may never qualify for any track team or who may never even dream of trying out, are encouraged to attend program sessions and continue to run simply because they enjoy it.”
—Vancouver Constable Mariya Zhalovaga
In addition to building physical endurance and stamina, the Run Club provides a sense of belonging, and by training together, the group is better able to tackle personal challenges, both on and off the track. “They learn important life skills such as perseverance and self-discipline, as well as compassion and encouragement,” Zhalovaga says. “While open to any student interested in running, many of the participants in the Windermere Run Club were recruited because of their increased likelihood of potential criminal involvement and victimization.”
“We are committed to continuing to give back to the community as a non-profit,” says Chéné, who notes they’ve assisted thousands of youth. “It’s special to also have the support of local running celebrities like Rob Watson, Evan Dunfee, Rachel Cliff, Evan Esselink, Luc Bruchet and Toni Tomsich who contribute their own time to help inspire the next generation. One of our main goals will always be to inspire youth and contribute back to the community,” Chéné says.
Joanna Kotsopoulos is a writer, editor and running coach with Boardwalk RC, a youth running club based in The Beach area of Toronto. ■