Student charity helps those who can’t, run the extra mile

Photo: archive of RWTTC

One of this year’s prestigious Via Bona awards for philanthropy, from the Via Foundation, went to the charity called Run with Those That Can’t. Started five years ago by a group of Czech and international medical students in Prague, RWTTC helps people with disabilities who are unable to walk or run participate in half-marathons and other running events. Volunteers help push special sports strollers at the events, allowing the riders experience the thrill of crossing the finish line.

Photo: archive of RWTTC
For this edition of In Focus, I had a chance to speak to the charity’s associate director Petr Oliva, who told me what he and his colleagues are trying to achieve.

“The basic goal is to show people around that people with disabilities exist in our society. Everybody knows about them, but not everybody wants to speak about it. And we still don’t take them as a real part of our society. And we would like to change that, to show that they can do almost everything that we can do.”

And you integrate people with a handicap through running and through sport…

“Yeah, we found this way to be exciting. And running or sports in general, are one of the areas that disabled people can’t do without problems, but if we can help them, they can undergo that excitement and the events. We found this to be a really good way and now we know that it works.”

And how did you personally become involved with Running with Those That Can’t?

“One of my best friends Scott Keel, the founder of this charity, asked me once if I would like to be a part of this, if I would like to run with those that can’t. And I said, yes, for sure. I saw it as a good opportunity, a good experience, a new experience for me. And after the first year that I ran with those that can’t, I realized that it is something that is really needed in my life. And now it will be the fifth year that I am with this charity.”

Photo: Archive of Via Bona
You say ‘needed’, but there are also many other things you are doing in your life – you are a student of medicine and an athlete. How does it all work together, how do you have time for everything?

“I said needed, because now I can’t imagine living without it. Because I can tell I am a better person now. And it’s not just about helping, but it’s also getting experiences for life. I have learned a few skills, and I am sure that I will use them in the future as a doctor and as a person. Sometimes, of course, it is difficult, to manage all the things together – studying, sport, family, my girlfriend – but if you really want to do something, you always find time to do it.”

So, who are the people who you help experience the thrill of running?

“So mainly these kids – although we had a few adults with us as well – have muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy. These are the two main handicaps that we work with. But, we are also open for everyone, especially people on wheelchairs. They can’t walk, they can’t run, but with our help they can go through that special sporting event. The way it works is that we run as a group, we use special sport wheelchairs, and these wheelchairs we are pushing the kids in the races. And they can feel the atmosphere around them, and they get a medal after the finish. It is really exciting and special for them.”

Usually how many kids take part in each marathon?

“Four year we started with two kids, but this year in April there were almost 20 kids. So we’ve seen a big step forward and we are happy about this and we hope to see more kids, more fun and more smiling faces. That’s the most important reason why we are doing this.”

You work relies heavily on volunteers. Who volunteers to push the kids in the strollers?

Photo: archive of RWTTC
“We started as a group of students, mainly students of medicine, but also students of other faculties and universities. With time it has become a more mixed group of people, which includes just adults, our friends, but also the parents of the kids we are pushing. So, we are open for everybody.”

Do the students and the volunteers who push the kids do other activities with them, to develop a relationship with the children?

“Our plan is to work more with the families, not simply to help them once, twice or three times a year, but to really be a helpful hand for them. So we organized a few trips to special needs centers. We’re also in contact with a few partner charities. And we’ve asked them what they need. So now we are trying to make it bigger and not only focus on our events – we now have three to four big events per year – but also organize other activities.”

You recently received the Via Bona award for your work. What has it done for you? What has it meant for your charity and for your colleagues?

“It is a big prize and a big success for us personally, for Scott and me, but also for our whole charity. Every time someone says ‘thank you’ or ‘you’re doing something that’s needed’ we have chosen a good direction. It is really a moment of happiness when someone appreciates what we do.”

Your friend Scott, who is one of the founders of this charity, is American. Do you feel that the somewhat different perspective on life that he brings in makes your organization and your work different from others in the Czech Republic?

“I think so, because Americans are different from Czech people. Scott always came up with some special ideas that surprised me. I think he really wanted to help people around him and he didn’t care that he was living in the Czech Republic as a foreigner, he really wanted to help the nation he was living in. And whether he made it different from other Czech charities? We are trying to be different, we are trying to be active, be fresh. We are a rapidly growing charity and we can really see the progress in the past four years. We know we could do it better, but it always depends on how much time we have. We try to do what we can and hopefully we do it well.”

Petr Oliva,  photo: archive of RWTTC
The next race, the next half-marathon is in April, so there will be a bit of downtime for you, hopefully, between now and then. What are your goals for the future? What are you planning for next year?

“The half-marathon in April will be our biggest event next year, as it always is. Now it is a bit of a break, but we will still be working on other activities. As I said, we are trying to organize trips and activities with the children, with families that can’t take them for walks or run every day. So we are now trying to focus on that, but also already started to plan the half-marathon. And we hope for next year and for the future to another small step forward. We would like to make it bigger, get more kids involved and to bring more volunteers into this project.”