Leah Cato had never been to Chicago when she joined the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago’s Run Red team, a charity marathon team that offers participants a free spot in the Chicago Marathon if they raise funds for the Red Cross mission. She had been running in the Washington D.C. area for a couple of years, but wanted to do a marathon for charity. Cato joined the team in 2010, following a desire to give back to society.
“I was searching for a way to make a difference, and running to raise money and awareness for charity has become just that,” Cato said.
With Run Red, Cato found exactly what she was looking for. Joining the Run Red team gave her the chance to run for a charity organization that’s internationally renowned for service.
“I’ve always been aware of the Red Cross’ emergency response to large disasters such as hurricanes, or through seeing it in my work abroad,” said Cato. “I’ve seen the impact the Red Cross has on a daily basis with emergency response.”
Giving back is a large part of the Run Red experience, but it’s not all it has to offer. For Cato, human connection was the cherry on the Run Red sundae. Cato cherished the opportunity to meet and bond with new people through Run Red. From the moment she entered Chicago, she knew she was surrounded by a good group of people.
“Coming to Chicago for the first time and getting such a warm welcome from the Run Red team made my first visit to the city a great experience,” Cato said.
To Cato, being with a great team made the experience more valuable. The Run Red team’s welcome gave her the sense that she was part of something special, that she was part of a community. As Cato finished the marathon, it became clear that the camaraderie among the team had easily endured the 26-mile distance.
“Being one of the slower runners I was really excited that they [my teammates] were still there at the end of the race cheering me on,” said Cato. “The entire experience was really a positive one.”
Run Red also taught Cato about the many different services the American Red Cross provides. She knew about the Red Cross’ work during large disasters and armed conflict, but hadn’t heard of the lesser known day-to-day activities, such as Disaster Action Team fire response and blood collection. Joining the Run Red Team increased her awareness of the Red Cross’ work.
For people who are considering participating, Cato recommends going for it. She also advises newcomers to reach out to family and friends early in order to make the fundraising process run smoothly. Cato acknowledges that running a marathon and raising funds isn’t always easy, but she finds it immensely rewarding. To Cato, it’s much more than just a marathon.
“Run Red is an opportunity to meet new people and give back to your community. It’s not a race. It’s an experience. It’s an opportunity to expand on your horizon,” said Cato. “Have fun. Happy running.”
Written by Patrick Cavanaugh