“This was a difficult decision,” Gabi Guerrini says of cancelling 2020’s eleventh annual Modesto Marathon because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’re hoping we recover and that we keep it going for another eleven years.”
Guerrini, long time Director of Volunteers, now has an even greater challenge ahead of her than she could have anticipated when she accepted the baton as incoming Race Director for 2021. She’ll have to resurrect the event from the cancellation and social remodeling caused by the pandemic.
There’s a long, hard course ahead for the new Race Director, but there’s a secret behind the marathon that motivates her, and one that many Modestans don’t know. The Modesto Marathon is more than just a prestigious race for running fanatics. It’s more than the Guinness world records achieved by participants. It’s more than a qualifier for the prestigious Boston and New York marathons, and the Olympics. What keeps Guerrini and the many dedicated volunteers upbeat and pushing forward to 2021 is that Modesto’s own marathon is the primary fundraiser for Teens Run Modesto or TRM.
And Teens Run Modesto was founded by Modesto’s Shadowchase Running club for more than just training junior high and high school students to run long distances. Every year when some 3500 runners, from international elites to local weekend warriors, run the streets of Modesto, they’re providing a living example to area teens that hard work and perseverance can achieve their goals and dreams, even in the face of immense challenges.
According to the Teens Run website, since the group’s inception over 1500 teens have participated the program that “challenges valley students to experience the benefits of goal setting, character development, adult mentoring and improved physical health through a structured training program.”
98 percent of participants have completed the Modesto Marathon or half marathon, depending on their age group. Over $128,000 worth of scholarships has been awarded to participants, and seniors have the option to participate in the TRM Leadership Program.
TRM involves “200-250 kids from junior high to high school,” each year, Guerrini explains, who commit to a twenty-six week program including weekend and weekday runs and training with mentors and coaches. “It teaches them to stick to something, to work hard for something. At the end of that, you’re rewarded with finishing something you started. Getting through that finish line is the culmination of all their hard work,” Guerrini says. The finishers’ medal is a tangible reward, but for Guerrini and her fellow volunteers, “It’s probably one of the greatest gifts you can give a kid, [to learn] if you work hard at something it comes to fruition.”
While the running world’s elites are attracted to Modesto’s flat course and the speedy qualifying times it produces, Guerrini emphasizes that running is the opposite of an elitist athletic pursuit. Shadowchase Running Club has training groups that include all levels of conditioning and goals. You don’t even have to run, to participate.
“We have a walker group, and a walk-run group,” Guerrini says. She laughs. “Running doesn’t care if you’re young or old, if you’re skinny or fat, if you’ve got bad knees or good knees, you just start doing it, and you make connections with people you never thought you would.”
Since the cancellation of this year’s event, “We’ve had a lot of great support” from sponsors, runners, and the community. Entry fees were deferred to next year, and Guerrini reports over 1500 racers are already on the books for 2021. 2020 runners could also earn their finishers’ medal by running virtually. But the financial impact has been huge on the future of both the Modesto Marathon and the TRM program. “It’s going to be tough.”
Fortunately there are ways to support the marathon and its character-building teen program in the coming year, Guerrini says, whether by an online donation, becoming a sponsor, or entering the race.
“You don’t do this by yourself,” she says of the sport of running. “You do it with the help of your friends, the community.” Now the Modesto Marathon is looking to that community spirt to meet the challenge of bringing the 2021 event across the finish line.
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