Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Running program seeks to transform boys

Ashley Armistead was alarmed. She'd taken sons Grant, then 3, and Connor, 2, to play at a friend's. And while she and other mothers talked, the boys were colliding toy trucks into the furniture and poking holes in the Sheetrock -- without remorse.

The mother who owned the house, just shrugged and said: "You know: Boys will be boys."

Not Armistead's boys. "It rocked my soul," she said. "There seemed to be no reigning in of the behavior, or belief that it could be reigned in.

"The behavior is so engrained it's stifling."

Back then, she was a cardiac rehabilitation nurse and in her free time volunteered as a coach for "Girls on the Run," the running program started in Charlotte and based in schools that's designed to boost the self-esteem of girls.

Armistead looked around for a similar program for her boys. There weren't any. So she and a cast of volunteers started their own, loosely modeling it after Girls on the Run, designed to comprehensively nurture the whole boy: body, heart and spirit.

They call it "Let Me Run," which last month achieved 501(c) status, which makes it a nonprofit looking for funding like most other nonprofits.

"When I was a nurse in cardiac rehab we had this comprehensive approach to health ... and I thought how crazy it was that we didn't bring prevention down to boys," she said.
The program, designed by runners, psychologists, physical therapists and exercise physiologists, tries to get boys to embrace the notion that it's OK to have emotions and to feel vulnerable. They teach that anger isn't the only acceptable emotion for boys and men.

Let Me Run has a running component to build endurance and strength. But it also works on relationships and redefines competition, "to encourage others, not just beat the other guy," Armistead said.

Last spring, the program was in six Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools with 15 volunteer coaches. She hopes to have it 10 schools this fall and 20 by next spring. Eventually, she and Let Me Run's board hope to franchise it into other cities.

"Boys are too competitive; I see that everywhere in the traditional box," said Armistead, whose son Grant is 11 now, Connor 10. "If they don't win the race, they feel they were a failure and that the race was a failure.

"We've got to change that."

To get the program's point across, Charlie Engle is speaking 7 p.m. Saturday at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, 5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy. Engle is the Greensboro native and ultramarathoner who with two other runners ran 4,500 miles for 111 straight days across the Sahara Desert to raise awareness for the need for fresh water.

Their story is told in the powerful documentary, "Running the Sahara." He's replaced alcohol and drug addiction with running. Engle will talk about how running and physical suffering saved his life. He's donating his time to raise money for Let Me Run.

The event, in the center's raft barn, is free, except for parking. Donations will be appreciated.

On Sept. 15, the group is hosting a talk by Harvard psychiatrist William Pollack, an internationally respected authority on boys and men. Pollack is the group's board chair. He will speak at 7 p.m. at Trinity Episcopal School, 750 E. 9th St. near uptown.

If you want to help Let Me Run, make checks out to Let Me Run and mail them to 9240 Tresanton Dr., Charlotte NC 28210.


Anonymous said...

When my boys played tee-ball, no scores were posted. Without fail, every boy on the team asked who made the most runs, and so parents started keeping score on their fingers. Life is a competition. There are winners and losers. And not everybody gets a trophy.

Anonymous said...

Awesome job. Keep up the good work!