December 17, 2009

Run… or walk… for your life

Posted in Between Us column, Health at 7:18 am by dinaheng

Paul Carrozza treats all people as athletes.

A longtime runner, he and his wife Sheila founded RunTex in Austin, Texas, which may be the nation’s largest store devoted to running. While the retail operation offers everything a runner may need, the activities sponsored by the store take the prize in heart and sole.

“We’re trying to bring people together through fitness,” Carrozza says. “Running not only helps people get fit, it brings them together on a neutral platform. We help non-profits put on cause-related fitness events to raise money for them. I use all our marketing dollars to sponsor a couple hundred of these events a year because the groups are strapped for  money.”

Carrozza leads a Morning Running Group in the city that’s open to all. Texas Gov. Rick Perry joins local runners now and then, as does Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Computers, and other notables in Austin.  Carrozza  says running together helps to foster positive  relationships, no matter what people’s cultural, religious or political beliefs may be.

In addition to helping other charities, his RunTex Foundation operates a number of running-related initiatives, including providing game-based training programs to school age children in low income areas of Austin, preparing the kids for races and providing the t-shirts, coaching and race entry fees.

“We believe in four elements — have a coach, be on a team, have the proper equipment, and train for something,” Carrozza says. “You’ve got to have the right gear, or you’ll get hurt, so we give away about  20,000 shoes a year. If a kid commits to participate in our training program to get fit, we’ll give him the shoes.”

The RunTex Foundation has also sponsored summer camp programs to teach disadvantaged children about nutrition and running, and conducted a fitness challenge for community folks who have at least 100 lbs. to lose

“My passion is to get people moving,” says Carrozza, who has served two terms on The President’s Council for Physical Fitness and Sports. “When you move, you eat better, get blood flowing to the brain, and are healthier. In a still environment, where we’re sitting in offices and watching TV all the time, you need to be motivated to be active.”

Nine years ago, Carrozza, a 1985 graduate of Abilene Christian University, heard the story of an Abilene student runner who had escaped a massacre in his native Africa. Gilbert Tuhabonye was at a boarding school in Kibimba that was attacked by soldiers from the Hutu tribe.

Tuhabonye and the other students were herded into a building that the soldiers set on fire. After nine hours, buried under the burnt corpses of other students, Tuhabonye grabbed a charred femur bone from the nearest corpse, broke a window and was the only one to escape alive.

He made his way to the United States and became a national track champion. Carrozza became his personal coach, and then hired him to work at RunTex to coach runners himself.

We may not all be champion runners, but the more we move our bodies, the better our minds and spirits will feel. The more distance we cover in life, the richer our experiences become, and the more we have to give to others. We just have to put one foot in front of the other.

And, as Carrozza notes, “Walking is a form of running, too.”

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