Running Changes Lives, and You Can Too

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As part of my trip to Jamaica to run the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10k thanks to my affiliation with Women’s Running magazine, I was privileged to visit Rhodes Hall High School in Hanover, Jamaica, which is located just outside of Negril. My fellow journalists and I were there to meet with the coach and athletes of the track and field team at the school because, as you probably know, track and field is a huge deal in Jamaica.

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This is Usain Bolt. You may have heard of him – you know, the fastest man alive?

Jamaican sprinters are the stuff of legend, and plenty of Jamaican kids grow up idolizing runners. It’s kind of a strange concept here in the U.S., where the best runners are barely known but football and basketball players are on a first-name basis. It speaks to the cultural differences between the two countries (cricket is also extremely popular in Jamaica!). In a country where many people suffer from unspeakable poverty and violence (not that you would know it from a spot on the many all-inclusive resorts dotting its beautiful beaches), sport is a national past time and escape, right up there with reggae music on the things that keep this small island nation literally and figuratively running.

The first student I met was Rodene, a high school sophomore who competes in the high jump, 800m, and long jump. Her shy, quiet demeanor immediately drew me to her; she stood out among a herd of boys running, jumping, and yelling. I soon learned that both of her parents were athletes and that has inspired her to compete, and compete she does – in pretty much everything! Rodene plays basketball, netball, and volleyball in addition to the track and field team, although netball is her favorite. She’s not just strong legs and quick moves, though – Rodene was named Student Athlete of the Year and loves studying Math, English, Social Studies, and P.E. She hopes to be a professional netball player when she grows up, but after that, she wants to become a teacher.

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I asked Rodene if I could take her picture and this is how she posed. I think it perfectly captures her sweet personality and her beauty! And yes, those are goats grazing on the practice field.

One thing I noticed about Rodene was that she was not wearing shoes or athletic clothes. As I began talking to Rhoando Parchment, the school’s track and field coach, it became apparent that this was not uncommon. At just 26 years old, Rhoando serves many roles outside of his official duties as head coach. “I’m a coach, teacher, guidance counselor, parent, and friend to these kids,” he said. “Many of them live in terrible poverty, and they have witnessed unspeakable violence. Sport is an outlet for them that helps shape their lives and keep them out of trouble, and there is also a real future in Jamaican track and field for some of these kids.” As we talked, I learned many of the students cannot afford running shoes, so they practice barefoot. The school cannot supply racing uniforms, so Coach Parchment purchased them out of his own paycheck for as many students as he could afford to. “I pay for whatever I can for them. I love being around the kids – they are the best part of my job!” Coach Parchment estimates that 5 or 6 of the kids have a real shot at making the national team in their respective sports despite their limited equipment and gear. On December 12, the students participated in a track meet and came away with a gold and a bronze medal, including a student who set a new meet record for the high jump!

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A student effortlessly flings himself over a jump that’s a good foot taller than my head – no big deal.

The more I talked to Coach Parchment and the students, the more inspired I became, but few got to me more than Omar. Coach Parchment had talked to me about him earlier and mentioned what a talented shotput and discus thrower he is, but he also mentioned how patient, kind, and attentive Omar is to the other kids. Not only does he stand a real shot at making the national team one day, he also is a great coach. How do I know? Because he personally attempted to teach me to throw the discus and shotput while I was there. I say “attempted” because I am a terrible student.

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Me and my best bud Omar practicing

I was like “Hey Omar, my hand is too small for this discus – can I have a smaller one?” And he was like “No, that’s the smallest one we have, but you’re also holding it wrong.” And then he patiently showed me again how to hold and throw the discus and I mostly failed. All the kids stood around and politely clapped and cheered like I just won the Olympics, though.

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A (semi) successful launch, finally!

What struck me the most about these kids, and especially Omar, who is incredibly talented, was how patient, kind, and humble they were. No one was bragging or trying to show off even though we were there taking pictures. They answered our questions honestly, but without any braggadocio. They were real about their dreams to maybe make the national team in their respective sports one day, but all had goals outside of track and field, too (Omar wants to go to college for engineering, by the way).

While I was standing on the field with these kids, I knew I wanted to find a way to help them accomplish their goals. All I could think about was how much running has given to me personally – it has made me believe in myself more than I ever thought possible and pushed me out of my comfort zone in pursuit of my dreams. Knowing the circumstances that many of these students have faced, I thought about how much hope running must offer them. It is more than I can even imagine! When I thought about how talented and dedicated they are, it seemed unfair that not having enough money to buy running shoes or not being able to compete because they don’t have uniforms wasn’t right, especially when their coach is working so hard and giving so much of himself to help them reach their goals.

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“Every child can learn. Every child must learn.”

So, after a lot of thought, I have decided to start a campaign to provide new and gently used running shoes and gear to the athletes at Rhodes Hall High School. I have a three-pronged plan of attack for this, but I need your help!

  1. I will be accepting donations of new and gently used running shoes, clothing, and gear (including things like water bottles!) of all sizes and colors at:

Danielle Cemprola

                                     PO Box 26101

                                     Greenville, SC 29616

2. Monetary donations of any size will be accepted on the GoFundMe page I have set up for the school. All money will go directly to the team!

3. I will be contacting the brands I work with to see if they can provide any material or financial support.

I really believe not only in these awesome student athletes, but also in the power of running and sport to transform lives! And if you’re reading this blog, you probably do, too. Please consider donating just a few dollars (in honor of my 30th birthday or the holidays if you need an extra reason!) to the cause or mailing me your new or gently used running gear! And please don’t hesitate to email me at thetrexrunner@gmail.com if you have any questions at all!

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Some of the successful 10k runners from Rhodes Hall High School with their coach, Rhoando Parchment, on the right!

54 thoughts on “Running Changes Lives, and You Can Too

  1. I want to donate but the link for the GoFundMe is not working. I will also be sending shoes!!! I absolutely love this and cannot think of a better gift to give. Thank you for setting it up and I will check back later to see if the link is working… xoxo

    1. Weird, it is working for me! I just double checked again so hopefully it is working now! Please let me know if not. Thank you SO much!! I know you must have a ton of shoes in your closet like I do 🙂

  2. This is awesome Danielle and I can only imagine how fun it was to witness first hand. We collect a lot of gently used shoes to send out that way as well at work. Anything that has been returned isn’t sold but donated. I’m glad you had such an incredible experience.

  3. Perfect timing! I have three brand new pairs of shoes I bought on sale a few years ago and then quit wearing that style. I’ll get them sent to you after Christmas.

    1. Fantastic, Jill! Thanks so much! I am in the same boat and have a few new pairs that I don’t wear anymore, so I’ll be sending mine as well. That’s kind of what made me think of the whole thing!

  4. I love this post so much! <3 I have so many pairs of shoes that only saw the light of day maybe 3 or 4 times before I decided I hated them and threw them under my bed. I had been wanting to donate them, but wanted it to go to a good cause. Your campaign came up at the perfect time. 🙂

  5. This is a wonderful thing you are doing honey! I will share this on my wall and see if other fellow runners may be able to donate things too.

    1. Please send them my way! We’ll take any running gear that’s in good condition as there is a huge group of kids and quite a range of sizes. You can mail them to Danielle Cemprola, PO Box 26101, Greenville, SC 29616! Maybe ask your trainees at CARA if they have anything and you guys could do one big box?

  6. You are incredible! What am experience and how very selfless of you to do this! I’m humbled by you, Danielle!!!! Not many people would actually take action like you are.

    I have soooo much stuff I don’t use anymore and am more than happy to send it your way as soon as I can get it together,

    1. Oh Caroline, thank you so much! Running has made such a wonderful impact on my life and I want to give back to the sport that has given me so much! Thank you in advance for whatever you are sending my way!

      1. Danielle, this might be a silly question…but the sneakers I want to send you are kinda heavy…like hiking/trail shoes. I alos have a pair of Salomon snow clogs. Inappropriate given the climate? If they could be used in any way I will gladly send! You can send me private email if you like. (I can email you photos of the shoes).
        Thanks!!

  7. Maybe some of the races you have run would be willing to donate excess shirts from past races? For the most part, extra shirts just take up storage space (which costs money). Some races try to sell them at future races for a discount, but that doesn’t always work out.

    Also, speaking of races, maybe your local race director, or the RD for any race you’re doing in December, would be willing to let you take up a collection? I know that at the Berkeley Half Marathon packet pickup this year, runners could donate the kinds of things you are seeking. (They were collected for a similar charity that helps kids running in Central America.)

  8. YOU are awesome! Thank you for not only providing a great story and information regarding your trip but seeing a need…and acting on it. I will definitely help in your quest. I know I’ve got plenty of tech shirts from races that I never wear.

  9. This is awesome, Danielle! I don’t have any shoes that would qualify as ‘gently’ used … but I will definitely do something to help out.

    We have shifted from exchanging gifts with the adult family members to doing charity donations. It makes for a great end of the year – we do charity work, donations, gift trees, and so on. Much better use of our money!

    1. Thanks, Michael! I appreciate your support. I think that is a really cool idea and something I wish we would do, too. My husband’s side of the family does a Christmas Eve gathering with friends each year and there are small gifts exchanged among all the adults, but it can be awkward/challenging to find something that isn’t just junk and that the people will actually like! I love the charity idea as an alternative.

  10. I have some women’s track shoes with removable spikes, that look brand new. Do you think they will need spikes? If so, I’ll buy some new ones to send with the shoes.

    1. Mel, that would be fantastic! Track shoes and spikes are huge need and they would love those! THANK YOU!

      1. Great! I think we have at least 3 pairs, two of which I know are in great shape. We’ll buy some extra spikes and get them packaged up to send to you this week or next.

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