Going the Distance

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Last spring, Philadelphia Runner Outreach Director Ryan Callahan read a text from his boss, spurring him to turn on the TV. It was April 15, 2013, and he watched in horror as multiple news stations reported on the devastation of the Boston Marathon bombing. Three people lost their lives, and about 264 others were wounded after two pressure cooker bombs exploded near the finish line.  Although Callahan had only been the outreach director for a month and a half, he knew that he needed to do something to show support.  

Emails from Philadelphia runners wanting to mobilize began to pour in, and Callahan and Philadelphia Runner decided to host a free run 48 hours later to honor those wounded and killed in the explosions. When the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office caught wind of how big the event was getting through a social media response, it decided to get involved, too. Last year, more than 2,000 people ran from the City Hall Courtyard to the Liberty Bell while people on the sidelines cheered them on.

“We didn’t do anything special; we met for a run,” Callahan says. “But … it allowed people to come together and celebrate our community in the wake of this tragedy. We thought it was going to be darker, quieter and sadder than it was, and it turned out to be the exact opposite.”

In late spring of 2013, a mutual friend introduced Callahan to Mike Kaiser, a Young Involved Philadelphia board member. The nonprofit, which started in 2001 and has more than 6,000 members today, advocates for young adults and gets them to interact with the city through several programs that focus on education and experiences. Callahan pitched Kaiser an idea—start a YIP Running Club. Kaiser was onboard. “It really was a partnership from the beginning,” Kaiser says. “The first run was great.”

YIP started doing fun runs in July 2013. In January 2014, Callahan and Kaiser coordinated a fun run where club members ran to the new Fringe Arts building and got an exclusive first look at the exhibit inside. Callahan has more fun runs planned for young Philadelphians looking for a great source of exercise and discovery. Alon Abramson, YIP runner and West Philly Runner organizer, has worked with Callahan in many capacities. Abramson first became acquainted with Callahan through West Philly Runners, YIP Running Club and more recently, a running group in Point Breeze.

“I try to support all of his ventures with the same kind of energy that he gives to my small running group,” Abramson says.

Callahan also keeps the running community well-connected by coordinating mixers with other city groups, such as Gearing Up, a nonprofit that helps to teach women in transition from abuse, addiction or incarceration how to safely ride a bicycle.

“We don’t always look at our return on investments in terms of dollars and cents; we look at it in terms of how do we keep a happy and healthy running community in the city.” Callahan says. “My job is to help serve those people, grow their races, grow their running groups, help get their nonprofit off the ground [and] get more volunteers. … I see my first responsibility to the running community.”

Story and photos by Megan Matuzak