Few people think running is fun. But among them is Bartlesville native Dadani Carreno, a freshman at Oklahoma Wesleyan University (OKWU) and member of the Mens’ Cross Country Team. “It’s a hobby…I just think it’s fun,” he says.
Carreno was not a traditional recruit to OKWU’s program. His journey to collegiate racing began at a local organization called Run The Streets (RTS). RTS is a training and mentoring program for students ages 12-18 in Washington County, Oklahoma. Students are taught how to run, set and accomplish goals, and are given practical homework help and positive role models. By the time the thirteen-week program concludes, students can complete a half-marathon.
Run The Streets wasn’t Carreno’s first choice for after-school entertainment, but with prodding from friends he began to attend RTS regularly during his junior year of high school. “I had never even run a mile before…I didn’t like it at the beginning, it was boring to run so much,” says Carreno.
Judging by his current attitude towards running, something changed. “I just started getting better at running, and the people there are cool. They’re motivational…If they can do it, why couldn’t I?” he says of his first experiences at RTS. Fast-forward two years and Carreno has three half-marathons under his belt.
What inspires Carreno and what still defines the success of RTS is the role of program mentors.
“This dude named Bob Williams…he’s like the person I first started running with. He’d tell me ‘Don’t stop, we’re almost there. Come on, you can do it; only one mile left!’” says Carreno.
Bob Williams, Carreno’s mentor and the RTS founder, says the heart of RTS is in its mentors: “Mentors volunteer three days a week in RTS and give about 75 hours of their time during each season without receiving any reward. Mentors have to adjust their pace to the pace of the youth they run with and frequently sacrifice better finishing times in order to help their youth across the finish line.”
But the high commitment level and sacrifice haven’t stopped “adults waiting in line to give up 75 hours of their time to help out one of our youth”, says Williams. According to the founder, “RTS has become so popular in this community that we actually have a waiting list for mentors.”
After Williams introduced Carreno to RTS, Carreno began training with another mentor named Marion Miller. “She’s the one who helped me run consistently and introduced me to speed work,” says Carreno, “She made running fun; she’d tell me stories on long runs.”
Miller, who is in her sixth season with RTS, has run for 20 years and says that becoming involved with RTS “reenergized my love for running. Being able to help other people learn to run and push themselves, develop self-discipline and goal-setting is a real blast.”
Miller points to the different levels of mentoring as contributors to its success: “On a running level…you are really serving the role as personal coach. Watching [the student’s] form, listening to and helping them develop their physical and mental stamina to push themselves to run faster than they have before,” she said.
The other level of mentoring, Miller says, is the role of supporter and role model:
“On a personal level, it’s common that while you run you will talk about a lot of stuff. You are a positive adult figure in their life. You help them realize there is a world beyond them, there’s a bigger picture out there.”
Because of its success, RTS has built an impressive reputation. The program, which garnedered coverage from FOX Local 23 News in June 2011 has also grown to serve 160 students and raise money for Moore tornado victims. But at the heart of it all are individuals like Dadani Carreno, who took to RTS and, literally, ran with it.
Indeed, OKWU Professor Bill Vieux, who has also served as a RTS mentor for the past three seasons, calls Carreno a “star” of the program. He says Carreno “is a great testimony to the gifts that are given each person if they are provided the proper environment to develop them.” And as he waits for NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) clearance to participate in his first college race, the promising athlete only has one thing to say: “It sounds exciting”—and, in typical Carreno fashion—“it sounds fun.”
Photos courtesy of Dadani Carreno.