Our sincere thanks to our friend, Neil Weintraub, for writing about his love of running, BBBSF, Flagstaff, and community service.
My love affair with running coincided with my parents' divorce. I was 12 and Dad moved from the suburbs to New York City and was living only a few blocks from Central Park, one of the world's most celebrated running venues. After watching scenes from Marathon Man where Dustin Hoffman’s character runs laps around the Central Park Reservoir, I was inspired to outpace as many runners as I could just like he did in the movie. I was hooked.
|Neil running the Westchester Half|
This time period was also the beginning of the 1970s running boom and my neighbor, Abe Simon, had just founded the ScarsdalAntiques Running Club. Abe, who had four girls and his wife under his roof, took me under his wing for first run. Soon after, he mentored me through my first race, the Scarsdale 15k. I was never very fast, and I chose not to participate in track or cross country, as I preferred to run alone at my own pace. A year later, I ran my first half marathon and I truly felt like a long distance runner.
As I look back on this catalyst to my life long obsession with running, I realize how important mentoring played a role in my life. So when I joined the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff Board in 2001, I found a passionate mission where I could play a role helping children succeed and couple it with my love of running by helping direct their always epic half marathon and 5K.
|Neil and his sister, Dana, at the|
BBBSF Half in 1989
The Big Brothers Big Sisters Half Marathon had held a special place in my heart. It wasn’t long after I moved to Flagstaff in 1986 that I found it to be my favorite race, perhaps because some of the friendly board members pointed me in the direction of the secretly hidden keg after I crossed the finish line. In 1989 my sister Dana even flew out from New York and we ran our first race together.
When I joined the BBBSF board, I also was interested in learning about their programs so I began volunteering as a school based mentor to Brian in early 2002 at Christensen School. A year later we started the program at Williams Elementary Middle School and ever since, I’ve been matched with Matthew, Christian, Bubba, Justice, Elijah, and now RJ. Over the years I’ve recruited several of my colleagues at the Williams Ranger District. During the school year, no matter how hectic the day is, we all rally in the halls at 3:30 p.m., as we declare to our office mates, "Sorry, can’t help you right now, it is 'Big’s Time.'"
When we arrive at the school, we look forward to navigating the gauntlet of kids and teachers who
orderly head to their bus rides home. Out of the sea of children step our littles, who fly out of the crowd to greet us. Depending on how full their backpacks are, this greeting has been known to knock us down. We will spend the next two hours laughing, running around, making games, launching toy helicopters into the sky, and just being goofy on the school grounds.
|Neil finishing BBBSF|
In those early days as a mentor and serving on the board, I knew next to nothing about fundraising and non-profits, though I had once raised money participating in the New York City March of Dimes 20 mile walkathon, getting pledges for each mile that I finished. As a board member we were asked to raise money by asking friends for contributions to the event. While friends always obliged, it was a lot of time and effort, and it often felt like tedious panhandling. It would be a few years more before I figured out a far more creative and fun way to raise money, invoking my passion for running.
After 9/11 and then participating in my first Soulstice Mountain Trail run, I felt a need to connect with people and keep myself motivated to run so I co-founded Northern Arizona Trail Runners Association. The idea was to promote safe trail running and foster camaraderie between Flagstaff runners of all levels.
I also knew I would be helping direct the Soulstice Mountain Trail Run the following October (2002) shortly after directing my inaugural Big Brothers Big Sisters Half Marathon. I figured being mentored by the Big Brothers Board who had their race running like a well-oiled machine would set me up for Soulstice success.
|Soulstice After Party|
In the early days of Soulstice we were just trying to break even and cover expenses. However, when we sold out for the first time in 2003, I started donating the proceeds to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff and other community causes. By 2006 the race had become one of the hottest events in Flagstaff and it occurred to me that I could raise money by guaranteeing entry to anyone who made a $250 donation or more to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff. On top of that, Aspen Sports partners Jerry Mclaughlin and Dave Barnett figured their raffle could also benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters.
As a result of the demand to get into the race, entries guaranteed by donations to the recently doubled Arizona Tax Credit, and the popularity of the Aspen Sports Super Raffle, Soulstice participants raised more than $16000 for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff mentoring programs in 2017. I could not be more thrilled by the generosity of runners who know the importance of helping children succeed across Arizona.
How can you get involved?
- Become a community or school based mentor by calling 774-0649
- Donate to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff http://flagstaffbigs.org/donate.htm
- Drop off clothes at Savers Bins
- Participate in Soulstice Trail Run for free by taking the Arizona Tax Credit!
- Run or walk the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff Half Marathon/5K
- Register a team for our Golf Tournament or Bowl for Kid’s Sake
|Neil the Big Brother with Littles!|