For 20 years, NYRR’s free youth running programs have helped young people get moving and develop healthy habits for life. Some alumni continue running long after they graduate from the programs, and a few even come back to work for NYRR and spread the message to future generations.
Luis Porto (above) started running with NYRR around 2004, when he was a third grader at PS 155 in Manhattan. All his friends were signing up for Young Runners—the program that evolved into Rising New York Road Runners—and even though he suffered from asthma, he decided to give it a shot. (His mother and doctor signed off.) He loved working out with NYRR coaches and competing on the Armory track at Youth Jamboree events.
After sticking with the program throughout elementary school, Porto joined the Rabbits Club, an NYRR-supported program. He ran for the Rabbits in middle and high school, honing skills that helped him make the track team at St. Francis College.
Earlier this year, Porto, now 24, became a full-time program coordinator for Rising New York Road Runners. “It’s cool seeing the whole process and visiting schools and seeing how the kids react to doing activities and games,” he says.
“Running so early in life resulted in me being pretty competitive later,” he adds. “It became a passion for me.”
The same was true for Ivette Benitez (pictured above running the 5th Avenue Mile back in 2008), who became an NYRR youth events coordinator last spring. Benitez began running with the Rabbits Club in 2005. There’s a history of diabetes in her family, and her mother knew that exercise is a great way to prevent the disease.
“When I first started running, I hated it,” Benitez says. “Through the years, I fell in love with it.” She ran with the Rabbits through middle and high school.
Benitez’s first job with NYRR was as an administrative assistant. In her current role, this year she co-led the Rising New York Road Runners at the NYRR New York Mini 10K for girls ages 8–18. “I was once that girl who was running this event, and now I’m the one planning it,” she says. “I’m very thankful that through running, I’ve been given these opportunities and taken full advantage of them to increase my personal and professional growth. Running helped me and shaped me into the woman I am today.”
The programs have changed more than just their names since Porto and Benitez were kids. Whereas the focus in years past was strictly on running, Rising New York Road Runners mixes things up with fun fitness games and activities designed to help kids learn important movement skills and gain confidence in their skills.
“The [current] program is really well developed,” says Benitez.
Porto also has high praise for Rising New York Road Runners. “Now, there are more things to do,” he says. “They’re teaching you that you can do many things to be active, and that’s cool.”