If you are out and about early on a Saturday morning near Copley Square in Boston, you can hear the chant of teenagers: “Sole train, sole train, sole train, sole train, sole train.” Following the chant, you will find yourself behind Trinity church. To your left, you will see teenagers cheering. To your right, you will see kids racing toward an imaginary finishing line. Teenagers on a Saturday morning are running and loving it. The last runner finishes through the chute of cheering kids, an overweight girl, breathing hard and smiling. She just ran 8 miles.
“Sole train, sole train, sole train.” “Bring it in,” someone shouts. The youth gather in a circle. “Say one thing you are thankful for and one goal for today.” The youth go around the circle, being thankful and setting goals. A young man speaks: “I am thankful I finished the run and today I will work on controlling my anger.” And then it’s over; the kids disappear as quickly as they appeared.
What if every day started like that: with a run, a reflection, and a goal. Would you be a happier, more productive, kinder human being?
Sole Train, a noncompetitive long-distance running program in Boston, aims to teach youth valuable skills, setting them up for happiness and success in life, through running. This concept may seem counterintuitive. Many people view running as painful, challenging, and boring. Through Sole Train, kids learn it is the opposite. Yes, running can be painful and challenging, but it also can be exhilarating, joyful, and rewarding.
Founded in 2009, Sole Train began with only 16 children and has since expanded to include hundreds of kids and over 40 mentors throughout the Boston community. The kids (Young Soles) and mentors (Old Soles) meet either before or after school. They set goals and find ways to reach those goals, while using running as the great equalizer and challenger.
This novel form of mentoring, side-by-side mentoring, allows both old and young to experience a challenge together, grow together, and ultimately deconstruct the impossible. And that is the goal: deconstructing the impossible. At the end of the Sole Train season, the kids run a half marathon; some even run a full marathon, a goal that many adults even call “impossible.” The courage and effort required to train, paired with the thrill of finishing a marathon, results in a child who knows anything is possible.
Many of the youth who participate in Sole Train are considered high risk. They have spent time with the Department of Youth Services, have been in juvenile detention centers, and have been labeled as having behavioral problems or as being “troubled.” These youth often gain the most from Sole Train.
Through the process of running, they are able to find their place in a supportive community that celebrates them and helps them discover just how far they can go. Sole train teaches these kids the sort of integrity and resolve that only comes when one has seen the backside of the impossible.
Through the generosity of numerous donors, Young Soles receive free race entries, sneakers, shirts, and hoodies that they wear with great pride. The transformation that a simple pair of running shoes can bring is beautiful and nothing short of miraculous. Having witnessed it hundreds of times, I can answer my own initial question….
If every day started with a run, a reflection, and a goal, you would be a kinder, happier human being.