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Have you ever participated in a physical activity that raised money or awareness for a cause you care about? In a recent Student Health 101 survey, more than 75 percent of respondents indicated they have! It’s no wonder: Philanthropic events that involve exercise are great ways to promote an issue that’s important to you, connect with like-minded peers, and benefit your own personal health as well.

For You, for Your Community

Fund- and awareness-raising athletic events can be extremely fulfilling and are often very personal. When you demonstrate your support for an issue that concerns you, you’re putting your values into action.

People who participate in these initiatives often describe them as cathartic and very satisfying. The events provide an opportunity to make new friends, feel a sense of accomplishment, and contribute in a very concrete way to your community.

Of course, fitness-focused awareness events have health benefits, too. They can increase your motivation to exercise, push you to challenge yourself, and create a sense of accomplishment—all leading to improved self-esteem.

Joleen E., a sophomore at College of the Desert in Palm Desert, California, joined a five-kilometer run/walk that supports the Red Cross. The “Run for the Red 5K” is one event, among many, that the Red Cross puts on every year to support relief efforts for victims of disaster.

Joleen was motivated to participate because she wanted to support this mission, and she involved her extended family, which added a social component to the event.

“The biggest benefit for me was [being able] to [participate with] family members whom I don’t often get to see,” she explains. Completing the 5K alongside people she cares about added a sense of camaraderie, which further inspired Joleen’s involvement.

Claire D., a junior at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, participated in a similar event while on vacation aboard a cruise ship. The campaign, organized by the Holland America cruise line, donates money to Susan G. Komen for the Cure® for every participant who walks or runs five kilometers (about 3.5 miles) aboard the ship.

“I chose to participate in the On Deck for the Cure™ walk because my Nana just recently had a mastectomy. [Without breast cancer research], there is a good chance [my Nana] would still be sick. Since breast cancer awareness helped [her], I felt more eager to participate in this walk,” says Claire.

Maybe you’re already involved with an organization that has an awareness and fundraising event. Many student organizations, like sororities and fraternities, have ties with certain causes that they support every year.

If you’re looking for a way to get involved, begin your search by identifying a cause you care about, then visit the Web sites of national organizations connected with this issue. Look for buzzwords, like “get involved,” “be a hero,” “volunteer,” or “take action.”

If a national event is not occurring in your area, find a local initiative that organizes fundraisers that take place in your community. You can start by contacting your school’s student activities program or by looking in your town’s newspaper.

Want to find YOUR activity?

No matter what cause ignites your passion, or your personal fitness level or abilities, there are events for you to join. Here are some things you may not know:
  • Many road races give participants the option of running or walking the course and separate the road or trail into different sections to encourage people to go at their own pace.
  • Many events have staggered start times, offering options for people in wheelchairs, assisted by animal companions, or even pushing strollers!
  • Biking events, such as the American Diabetes Association’s Tour de Cure®, offer courses that vary in length, terrain, and difficulty to allow bikers of all fitness levels an opportunity to be involved.
  • If you’re looking for a challenge inside, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society sponsors stair-climbing events, and the HERA? Women’s Cancer Foundation organizes indoor rock climbing in support of ovarian cancer research.
  • Prefer to focus your efforts locally? There are plenty of community organizations that need your support. Ericka I., a sophomore at College of the Desert, in Palm Desert, California, chose to participate in a local walk to raise awareness about homelessness. The event’s proceeds supported Martha’s Kitchen in Indio, California. “Local fundraisers are [just] as important as the national ones,” Ericka says. “Local [events] focus on the people who need help in our [own] community.”

Challenge Yourself Physically

Some students want to get involved but are concerned they won’t be up for the physical aspects of certain events.

For example, every summer the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, in Boston, Massachusetts, benefits from the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC)—a bike-a-thon that crosses the whole state. Unless you’re a regular Tour de France competitor, that probably sounds overwhelming.

But, as the Pan-Mass Challenge’s Web site explains, there are “routes for every level of skill (and hill).” Participants can choose from one- or two-day rides, or participate in “PMC a la Carte.”

Joining an event can serve as motivation to boost your fitness level or achieve an exercise goal. Some fundraisers, such as the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America’s Team Challenge, involve group training programs to help prepare participants and connect them with others who share their passion.

Wendy Ansley, a professor of kinesiology and physical education at College of the Desert, has seen many students improve their fitness while participating in group training. “Anytime you get a group together [for a cause], it improves motivation. You start doing things you wouldn’t necessarily do by yourself, such as training harder,” she says.

There are awareness-raising events that cater to all interests and abilities, so regardless of your fitness level or preferred athletic activity, you can find one that’s right for you.

The Challenge of Money

One of the hardest parts of this type of initiative, for many students, is the fundraising component. Asking friends and family for financial support can feel awkward, and you probably can’t cut the whole check yourself.

To raise money for your cause, be it local or national, start by sharing your personal motivations for getting involved. Make your contacts aware of how important the cause is to you personally.

The Arthritis Foundation suggests writing letters (or emails) as a way of communicating your reasons for participating and your fundraising goals. According to the foundation, “A letter-writing campaign has proven to be the most effective form of fundraising.”

Many initiatives offer tips on reaching out for financial and personal support, and you may even be able to set up a donation page through the organization.

Ansley explains, “The great thing about fundraising is that it gives meaning to fitness.”

There are so many ways to be involved, so why not combine your social action and exercise efforts! You could create lifelong friendships, boost your physical skills, and directly support a cause you believe in.

So make your next run, bike, or hike affect more than just your health.

As the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America’s Team Challenge motto puts it, “Get fit, make friends, and change the lives of others!”

Need help finding funding & support for your involvement?

Here are more ideas for gathering dollars for your cause:
  • Reach out to local businesses for sponsorship.
  • Use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Post messages to your friends and contacts, and make sure you have the event logo or other promotional material in view.
  • Create a Facebook group for your event and update it regularly. As fundraising goals are met, make sure to thank your individual and corporate sponsors.
  • Many events ask you to set up a fundraising page on their own Web site. These may include an option for potential donors to make financial contributions online.
  • Visit the event organizer’s Web site for more tips and support. Sometimes there are people dedicated to helping participants meet their fundraising goals.
  • Be creative! Host a party and ask guests to make a small donation to the cause, or ask your colleagues to pool a day’s worth of coffee money.

Take Action!

  • Identify a cause you care about and find out how to get involved.
  • Don’t let the physical or fundraising challenges daunt you. Most initiatives have various options for participation.
  • Think beyond the usual runs, bike rides, and walks. There are stair climbing, hiking, rock climbing, and many other types of events, too.
  • Train for your activity with a buddy or find a group of participants to join in getting ready.

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