This February, we are celebrating NYRR Volunteer Appreciation Month by honoring our 22,000-plus volunteers from 2018.
NYRR volunteers may be best known for being clad in yellow vests at the fluid stations and finish lines of our races, but they are also vital to many NYRR programs and events. This month, we’d like to share the story of Monte Olenick, volunteer leader of Central Park’s Striders, NYRR’s free walking program for older adults with sessions across the five boroughs.
Monte Strolling through a section of Central Park.
Monte starts every Tuesday by getting on the subway and commuting from Brooklyn to Central Park to lead a diverse group of older adults on walking sessions through the meandering paths of Manhattan’s largest greenspace.
A Korean War veteran and a former librarian, Monte has continued to live a life of service by volunteering to lead these walks for more than 20 years. Over time, he’s realized his calling. “I find new paths,” he says. “That’s what I do.”
Though he humbly claims he doesn’t know the entire park yet, Monte, now 88 years old, has developed specific routes for beginner, medium, and challenging walks, which he chooses based on the participants present that week. Despite this precision, the entirety of Central Park stands out in his mind. “I’m not sure how many different kinds of pavements or areas we cover. It just feels like one path,” he says.
The Engineers’ Gate Striders group, including Monte (in rain hat), program manager Wesley Davis (right), and Striders coaches Renee Gilbert and Bill Silver (in safety vests).
Monte’s routes help keep the group active and engaged, he feels that good conversation is what really keeps the Striders coming back. “I have a lot of conversations with different people on the walk,” he says. “Whether it’s politics or health or current events or family problems, there’s always someone to talk to on the walk.”
Monte encourages other older adults to get walking with Striders because of the health and social benefits as well as the fact that “you don’t need any money, you don’t need any special equipment, you just find a time slot that’s comfortable for you.”
Monte Olenick prior to a recent Tuesday Striders session.
Volunteering has given Monte purpose later in life and he urges others to answers the call of service. “After retiring people who have worked can still have a life ahead of them—they can have plans, challenges, and goals. They can continue being active,” he says.
He points out that volunteering can give anyone, at any age, a drive. “Volunteering makes me feel useful and that I have a purpose beyond my own gratification,” he says. “I am glad I can continue doing it.”