Saturday, November 7, 2009

In the Arena Alumna

Having served as one of the founding members of the Arena Roster, Sara Hall has recently joined the ranks of organizational alumni. In the Arena (ITA) is honored to have had Sara among those on our frontlines for over two years; and we're grateful to her for the extraordinary work she's done with myriad children in California and elsewhere during that time.

One of the reasons Sara is moving on from her ITA-specific work is to spend more time focusing on the Hall Steps Foundation, a charity founded by Sara and her husband Ryan Hall in an effort to answer the needs of impoverished children worldwide. We here at ITA like to think that Sara got her civic start with us, but the truth is she's been committed to the notion of service since her earliest years. It’s part of her DNA. If you’d like to learn more about the Hall Steps Foundation, please visit the website; or you can follow the organization, Sara and Ryan on Twitter: @StepsFoundation, @sarahall3 and @ryanhall3, respectively.

ITA wishes Sara, her family and the Hall Steps Foundation all the best in the coming years. You can also keep up-to-date with Sara –or with any of ITA’s alumni –by visiting the Arena Athlete Alumni blog, where you'll find first-person updates on all of our alumni.

Thank you for your interest and support.
Onwards and upwards.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Photos from Zambia

Sara and Ryan in Zambia with Team World Vision

Isaac at the start line in the village

The children in Musele

With the kids at the start line in Zambia

Monday, November 10, 2008

Team World Vision

In the last year leading up to the Trials and beyond, I have taken a backseat role with hands-on volunteering, but my passion for social justice and overcoming poverty has led me to become involved with World Vision, and specifically Team World Vision. World Vision is an international Christian humanitarian organization that works in nearly 100 countries around the globe, combating the root causes of poverty and responding quickly when disaster strikes. 

I really like World Vision’s way of working, in that they wait to be invited in by a community, and then partner with communities to find lasting ways of improving the lives of children and their families. Our role in their work has been joining Team World Vision, which raises money for World Vision’s projects in Africa through athletics. We have been encouraging runners to join the team, choose a race to run for, and raise support for World Vision. Most runners on the team run the Chicago Marathon, but anyone can run, walk, bike, or commit whatever challenge they are excited about to raising money for children in developing countries.

This year, all the money raised by the runners in the Chicago Marathon went to brining clean water to communities in Zambia. Ryan and I went out to Chicago to cheer on Team World Vision last month. It was incredible to actually be with the team in person, meet them at the pre-race pasta dinner, and rally the masses in orange ready to run Sunday morning! Team World Vision had around 800 runners in the marathon, making them close to if not the largest charity in the race! It’s been exciting to see the word getting out and the momentum that the team is generating. During the marathon, I ran around the course cheering on my teammate Kate O’Neill and the hundreds of orange TWV runners that were so easy to spot! Afterwards, we had a barbeque in a park adjacent to the finish, and we got to hear the stories of the 26.2 miles and what had motivated them to join Team World Vision. Some of the runners even ran with buttons displaying a picture of their sponsored child, of whom they were running in honor.
After the Chicago Marathon, Ryan and I traveled to Zambia to see first-hand the water projects that the Team had funded. We had a great time there, and really came away believing more than every in the World Vision model for tackling poverty. Not only did we see the bohr holes that were drilled to bring clean water, but we saw other projects like fishing ponds and health clinics that World Vision had empowered the community to build, aimed at tackling all of the different health and poverty problems that are plaguing the Musele community.

One of my favorite memories from Zambia was the first day we arrived there. Ryan and I went on a run from our hotel along the main road. As we ran down the road, women walked with buckets of water balanced on their heads, men rode by on rickety bicycles, and everyone that passed us stared at Ryan and I, often muttering “mizungo”, meaning “white person” or, the more bold ones, shouting out “Hal-loo, how are you?”, excited to practice their English. We passed numerous mud huts along the way, and often children came running out to wave at us wildly, giggling at the sight of foreigners. They were so adorable it was overwhelming, and I waved back at them, grinning equally as wide.

Soon groups of children in light blue uniforms could be seen up ahead, walking home from school carrying their book bags. As we ran up next to them, they smiled and laughed, and started running with us, still laughing! I was amazed at how small children, caring bags of books the size of them could keep up at a sub-7 minute pace, often barefoot or wearing sandals! Their joy was infectious and we giggled with them, giving them high-fives and thumbs up as they strode beside us. Soon the road started to climb, and one by one they would slow to a walk, except one girl who looked about 10 years in age, who followed our pace from across the road. She was wearing pink crocs and had a large back of books in one hand, but she smiled as she kept up with us for almost 2 miles! When we started to pull away and she slowed to a walk, she still smiled and waved at us until we were out of sight.

The smiling faces of these children still stick in my mind, and remind me to take time out of my training to work to bring hope to these communities from afar. We have been trying our best to spread the world about Team World Vision and find ways to use the platform we’ve been given through our competitions. And hopefully, one person at a time, doing their part by choosing a race and raising support, we can continue to bring hope and joy to children like these all over the world!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Happy New Year!

I am writing in from Flagstaff, Arizona where I have been staying since Christmas. Ryan and I came here to support our good friend Alicia Shay, and thus my projects in Mammoth Lakes and Big Bear have been temporarily put on hold. Tomorrow I will be heading out to the east coast for 3 races on 3 consecutive weekends- New Balance Indoor Games at the Armory, Reebok Indoor Games in Boston, and the Millrose Games at Madison Square Garden. I am excited to begin racing and start of the Olympic year! I have been training hard for a few months now, and I am ready for a chance to see where I am at fitness-wise! When I return, I am looking forward to catching up with my friends from the track team and library in Chula Vista, where I will be living for the month of February. Lots of traveling as usual, but I am enjoying being where I am at and maximizing what I am doing no matter where it is!
My coach, Terrence, sent our team a quote the other day to keep in mind as we begin 2008 (the Olympic Year!) "Human greatness begins where submission to fear ends. You cannot become wealthy like Bill Gates without first casting aside the fear that you will fail, without risking capital and prestige. You cannot become a Winston Churchill if you are intimidated by the evil power that you must fight. You can’t get a college degree if you’re afraid of taking tests, and you can’t win an Olympic gold medal if you’re afraid of losing a race. It is courage, not caution that leads to great success.” I hope that everyone has been able to use the turn of the year to reflect on where they are heading, and what may be holding them back from pursuing it whole-heartedly! I am ready to put these good intentions to practice this weekend at the Armory!
Until next time....

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Jingle Bell Run!


Merry Christmas! I am writing this entry from my in-laws’ house in Big Bear Lake where I recently finished the kick-off to a project Ryan and I are getting involved with up here in Big Bear. It’s called “The Lighthouse Project” and its aim is to create healthy, child-honoring communities. To help kick-start this program, we are starting a campaign for the citizens of Big Bear to “Move a million miles for Ryan Hall” (in honor of his recent accomplishment at the Olympic Trials). The goal is for the town to collectively move (either running, cross-country skiing, biking, walking, or anything else cardiovascular) a million miles by August 24th- the date of Ryan’s marathon race at the Beijing Olympics. It’s an ambitious goal for the town of 16,000, but one that is definitely doable!
When we were contacted by the head person of the Lighthouse organization, I was thrilled about their vision. After working in the schools and seeing how often irresponsible parenting leads to troubled kids, I too wanted to encourage parents to be good role models. Furthermore, I have always marveled how a place as beautiful as Big Bear Lake could have so few cyclists and runners. With the rise in obesity that is occurring nationwide also a factor in this mountain community, I thought that using Ryan as a role model and piggybacking on his recent success could really make an impact.
For starters, as Ryan says, he remembers growing up in the schools in Big Bear in an environment where kids didn’t dream big. Life revolved around the small mountain town, and rarely did kids think about doing something world-impacting with their life, much less leaving southern California. Ryan has definitely broken the mold, and in doing so, is a natural role model to kids that live in this area to DREAM BIG! To set goals and chase them, no matter what anyone else says. This is what I hope to, along with the Lighthouse Project, encourage in Big Bear Lake.
But Ryan did not break this mold on his own- he had a very supportive family network behind him through the good and the bad. There was a time when he stopped out of Stanford for a quarter because running was going so poorly and contemplated on giving up on his dream. But his family was there to encourage him to persevere, and the rest is history! This is our hope for being involved with The Lighthouse Project in Big Bear Lake- that not only would the youth gain a broader perspective of what is possible for their lives and dedicate themselves to pursuing goals, but also that their parents would come behind them and support them.
Thus, the “Jingle Bell Run” this morning! I had this idea to raise awareness for the program and to get people starting to go out jogging! So, despite the fact that it was at 7 am on a Sunday morning, barely light and freezing cold, we had at least 50 people of all ages (and a few dogs) show up to run together through town, wearing Jingle Bells and carrying a sign proclaiming “Move a million miles for Ryan Hall’! It was a great morning, and hopefully we will get good coverage in the local paper to kick-start the program. I hope that this modest beginning will have a ripple affect in the community, and we will see people not only improving their own physical fitness, but seeing their families grow stronger and their vision for the future brighter. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Thanksgiving Reflections

Happy Thanksgiving! I am excited for the holiday season to begin! I am sitting on a plane, heading to my grandparents for turkey dinner, and reflecting on the last month since I last wrote. When I was last in Mammoth Lakes, I was doing a lot of groundwork for the bilingual tutoring program I am starting to help bridge the gap for English as a second language learners. However, my work was interrupted by a trip to New York City where my husband, Ryan, competed in the US Olympic Team Trials. Now, as I return to my work in Mammoth Lakes, I have a renewed sense of purpose as a result of the events that transpired.
November 3rd will always be a memorable day for me. Never before have I felt such an intense mix of emotions. I watched my husband, Ryan, dominate the final miles of the marathon trials, living out his dream of becoming an Olympian, and rejoice the last two miles into the finish. I was elated! It had been a long road getting to this point, mentally and physically, for both of us. Back in August, Ryan went through a slump in his training where he had no energy and his workouts were terrible. He had begun to give up hope on his dream and wonder if he should be even show up on race day. To compound the issue, I was in Europe, helpless to support him besides calling him from my computer in Belgium. I thought about those days as I watched the relief on his face when he broke the tape.
However, our joy was shattered an hour later when our agent, Ray Flynn, reported some news that a friend of ours, Ryan Shay, had died out on the course while running. We were shocked. Both of us had just gone on a run with Ryan and his wife Alicia, a good friend of mine from college, the day before the race. He seemed as healthy and excited as my husband Ryan. After the awards, I rushed to find Alicia, who had moved to a different hotel. When I found her, my heart was heavy as I witnessed my dear friend suffering so intensely.
In the next few days, we spent some time together, with little talking and mostly crying. However, one thing she said to me while we were on a run in Central Park was, “Just remember, that we have been called to live ‘for such a time as this’ “. Coming from a verse in the Bible book of Esther, it was a reminder that God has called us to live with intentionality and realize the things he has called us to do. It was something she often reminded me of while in college, before big races or important events, but in this instance it took on new meaning. Now, not only should we realize our life calling and live intentionally to serve the one who created us, but because life is unpredictable and tomorrow is not promised to us. Therefore, we should seize the days that are given to us and live intentionally with this perspective. It is a perspective I will have when I continue with my tutoring, and in doing so, I hope to honor Ryan Shay- someone who modeled living and training with single-minded focus and intentionality.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

October 15, 2007
I am sitting here in the Mammoth Lakes Public Library and awaiting my first day of a tutoring program I am starting up here in Mammoth. I am really excited for the chance to plan my own curriculum and incentives for the students, and to have a little more flexibility than I had tutoring at Mammoth Elementary School. The tutoring is free of cost, and thus I am hoping to target the low-income demographic up here in Mammoth that isn't able to take advantage of Husky Club, the incredible after school program in place, but that is not free of charge. Furthermore, it is this group of students that I believe may need the tutoring most, since a large majority of them are from immigrant families where English is not spoken in the home and often the parents don't know enough English to help with the students' homework.

I am excited because not only do I love conversing in Spanish and love working with ESL students, I really believe that this group needs to be supported early on so that they are given equal opportunities later in life. From working in the Elementary School, I have seen there is an incredible need for ESL teachers here in Mammoth, since the schools are over 50% English as a second language students, with their primary language being Spanish. The teachers are, by California law, not allowed to teach in Spanish, however I have seen firsthand how some children come into the schools knowing no English and are completely left behind. I hope to help bridge this gap, since there are no restrictions on me teaching in Spanish, to help these students catch up to the rest of the class.

I know a big challenge of beginning this tutoring will be finding a location that is easily accessible to the students. Right now the library is in the process of moving buildings to an ideal location right next to the schools, and close to the low-income housing. Hopefully I will be able to relocate in less than a month, but for the time being, I will be in the old location that is somewhat more isolated. But I will try my best to get the word out in the meantime!

One of the incentives I want to have for the students that come to tutoring is a chart, where they can get a stamp for every day they come and complete their homework with a good attitude and to the best of their ability. The chart is going to resemble the Olympic stadium in Beijing! I am looking forward to, amidst the tutoring, sharing with them about my running, and how it has taught me about hard work and setting goals in a way that they can relate it to working hard in the classroom. Hopefully, a child at a time, I can begin to make a difference up here in Mammoth!