Fitness Articles

Charity Races Mix Fitness and Fundraising

A Win-Win Scenario: Get Fit and Help Others!

Donkey basketball. A classic example of two words you’d never include in the same sentence let alone next to each other. Yet some of you may have heard of it nonetheless. Donkey basketball was an annual event that took place in my small southern town when I was a kid: Real life donkeys in the high school gym, mounted by people and playing basketball for an audience. The whole point of donkey basketball was to raise money for a good cause. What can I say? We’ve come a long way since then!

Fitness-themed fundraising events continue today, but thankfully donkey basketball is a thing of the past (I hope!). Today, many charity groups hold specific fitness events with the goal of recruiting participants to help raise money and awareness for their cause. In return, the charity often provides participants with the tools they need to achieve their goals. Chances are that right now there are some charity events in your community.  You may have even walked, ran or biked in one! People participate in these events for a host of reasons, whether they want to contribute to a good cause, get some exercise, or wear their race T-shirt with pride.

I have had personal experience with charity races on three different occasions. My first was at the Country Music Half Marathon, which benefited a local group called Team ASK (Athletes for Special Kids). The second was the Tour de Cure bike ride for the American Diabetes Association. And most recently, I fulfilled my dream of running in the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. for the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund. There are many others out there including the well-known Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team In Training program, which offers various events all over the country. (If you have ever seen a lot of people in purple tank tops during televised marathons or races, those are the folks!) And this year's Marine Corps Marathon has are over 70 participating charity groups from which participants can choose from.

So how exactly do you get involved in a charity race? It works like this.
  1. A charity group identifies an event, such as a half or full marathon, 5K or 10K run/walk, bike tour, or triathlon.
  2. The charity then recruits participants who agree to raise money for the charity and personally participate in the race itself.
  3. Participants typically pay a race entry fee (which can range from $10 to $40 on average). This money usually goes directly to the charity group, but also reserves a participant's spot in the race.
  4. In the months or weeks leading up to the event, participants are asked to raise funds, and are often encouraged to meet a minimum fundraising goal, as set by the charity. Participants will ask their friends, family members, neighbors and co-workers to donate money to the cause on their behalf.
  5. In turn, the charitable organization often provides support, coaching, encouragement, and training to help participants reach not only their fundraising goals, but also the level of fitness necessary to participate in the race.
Overall, a charity race is a great way to raise money and awareness for a good cause while staying motivated and encouraged to stick with a fitness program. Here are the top 4 reasons you should consider running, walking or biking for charity yourself:

1. Be part of something bigger than yourself. By participating, you are joining hundreds and thousands of others who have the same goal of helping people—and that just feels good! Many participants would probably tell you that they wouldn’t have just signed up for a race on their own, but knowing they would be helping others motivated them to do so. In running the Marine Corp Marathon last year, I was proud to wear the singlet with the Injured Marine Semper Fi logo. Many people would shout “Semper Fi!” as I ran by and that felt amazing!

2. Be part of a team. Anyone who played sports in high school or college will tell you that when their “career” ended, one of the biggest things they missed was being a part of a team. Participating in an event with a charity group puts you on a team of other runners, walkers, and cyclists who have a united goal and purpose. You even get to wear the same shirts or jerseys in most cases. For those who have always longed to be on a team, whether for the first time of the fiftieth, this is a great opportunity.

3. Build some very special relationships. When I was training with the runners from Team ASK with Special Kids, we met up every Saturday in the winter to train together. On those extra cold mornings, running become bearable an even fun knowing I would be seeing my friends. Also, sharing in the training experience and encouraging one another builds great bonds and friendships that last long after the event is over.

4. Get the tools you need to accomplish your goal. You may have had a lifelong dream of completing a marathon, or even a triathlon, but there was one problem: You didn’t know how to train to get there. Groups like the Leukemia Society’s Team In Training provide coaches who will give you weekly schedules so you know exactly what to do and when to do it. They also provide other tips for training and fundraising. Their goal is for you to succeed in your event and fundraising and to have a great overall experience. Sometimes there are even local groups with these teams that meet for weekly runs or walks.   
As I said earlier, a charity race really is a win-win scenario. But more accurately, it's a “win-win-win” scenario! You win by completing a dream or fitness feat. The charity wins by receiving the funding they need to fulfill their mission. And the people helped by the charity win by benefiting from the research, services, education and support that the charity provides. How much better can it get?

To close, let me share a real life example. A couple of years ago at the Country Music Marathon, one Team ASK runner was having a tough time during the race. She had reached the 20-mile mark of the 26.2-mile marathon and just gave up and quit. She sat down on a bench and basically said “stick a fork in me because I am done!” Our training coach (who had never had a person not complete an event) sat down beside her. He patiently listened as she explained why she was frustrated and “done” with the race. She was tired and hot and bored and all the fun was just gone! At that moment, Rick told her that she couldn’t quit and he pointed to the band on her wrist which bore the name of the Special Kids child she was running in honor of. Tears welled up in her eyes. She knew she couldn’t quit because this race wasn’t for her—it was for the child she represented. So she got up and finished the race! Today, she still says that was a defining point in her life and that she is so proud for her accomplishment and for not giving up.

The thought of walking a half marathon, running a marathon, or completing a triathlon may seem unreachable to you right now, but it really is possible. These organizations can give you the tools, coaching, and motivation you need to make it happen, no matter what your fitness level. (And trust me, there are people of all shapes, sizes, ages and fitness levels training and completing these events.) Why not go for it and do something you never thought possible? Choose a charity that is close to your heart, something you really believe in, and make your dream—and the dreams of others—come true!

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Member Comments

  • I totally agree with this article....for 3 years in a row I walked in the "50 miles in 3 days" for MS awareness. I proudly walked with my DH picture posted on my back and my grown children participating in the food station table and/or cheering station. It was an emotional three day event!!
    This event will collect more money from the participants,if they would announce about their race to increase the fund and thus this charity http://cheapcusto will help the needed person.
  • I've been running for a little over a year now after joining Team Muscle Makers😃. I completed my first half marathon at Disneyland in August of last year, and then my second just 2.5 months later! We are now just over 7 weeks out from the Tinkerbell Half Marathon and I couldn't be more excited! Shooting for a PR plus I get to hang out for a weekend with my awesome teammates and raise money for a great cause!
    I do Breast Cancer walks with groups of friends.
  • I do a few of these walks a year.
    And would you believe my town's high school still has DONKEY Basketball?! Not a thing of the past here!
  • I just walk to exercise. I don't go for anything else. Just stay health.
  • On New Year’s Eve 2011/2012, I got engaged to my boyfriend of seven years. Soon after we began planning for an October wedding. While I should have been excited, I was sort of withdrawn and sad about my wedding. You see, I had lost my father to a very rare form of Lymphoma in 2003. The thought of him not being at my wedding was depressing.

    I thought long and hard about a way to honor him during this special time in my life. My future sister in law had completed an event with Team in Training in the fall of 2011. I went to an informational meeting and immediately signed up for an event. Me, a lazy couch potato decided it was a great idea to run/walk a half marathon. On April 29, 2012 I completed my first half marathon. It was an amazing and rewarding feeling!

    This year I am signed up for two more events with TNT. I will participate in a 10K on April 14th followed by another half marathon on April 28. TNT has become near and dear to me. Go Team!
  • Last year, my son, my mom, and I did the 5k for Autism. We didn't train. We all finished the race (we walked the entire way) next to last.My son wanted to give up twice, but I kept reminding him of his friends with autism. He was running for them and I was running for him. It was really tough to walk past Krispy Kreme - TWICE. We all got a free doughnut after the race. My son wanted to run across the finish line, and even though I had no energy left, I was there because of my son and he and I ran across the finish line with big old grins!
    This year, we're Team Casper. We're training. And we will run across the finish line again.
  • I remember once when I was little, watching my dad play donkey basketball! The donkey my dad was put on wouldn't move!!! Guess it didn't want to play! Lol!! I think the next one he was put on kept trying to buck him off!! :)
  • I started running just because I got bored with walking. I did my first charity 5K for the local humane society. I enjoyed it, but what keeps me coming back to these events is helping others. My daughter just raised over $500 for her charity with her last half-marathon.

    There's so much exercise you can do for yourself, and that's great, but running allows you to do good for yourself and others at the same time, and I plan to keep on running for a long time because of that.
  • MAGGIE101857
    First, let me say that I laughed so hard when I read the first sentence -- donkey basketball. This - was an annual event in my hometown with the police department vs.the teachers! It was so much fun to watch!!!

    I have run two 5K's this year, both for charity. I'm a fairly new runner, and these were both a challenge and they left me with feeling that not only did I accomplish my own goals, but I helped others in the process. Kudos to everyone who has taken part or plans to in the coming year!!!
  • I'm running my first Race for the Cure in many a year. Thanks to Spark People. The race is this Sat, and I know I will be part of something that is larger than my self. That feeling alone is worth more than money can buy.
  • I have my first 5k race ever on Thursday- & it's described as one of the most challenging trail races in New England- oh god! I just had to sign up for it though cause the proceeds go to a mental health facility in my community!
  • Go Team in Training! I did my first half marathon with them, and as soon as I crossed the finish line I declared myself 'addicted' to races. But I would never do another one without TNT. Words cannot even describe how inspiring it is, I ran the whole 13.1 miles beaming with a smile because of TNT!
    I did a 5k walk for breast cancer yesterday with friends for work. Woohoo!

About The Author

Jason Anderson Jason Anderson
Jason loves to see people realize the benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle. He is a certified personal trainer and enjoys running races--from 5Ks to 50K ultramarathons. See all of Jason's articles.

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