Motivated to move: Runners often care more about the charity than race results

| Monday, Sept. 10, 2012, 9:13 p.m.

For Melissa Franko, participating in the Lupus Loop 5K isn't just great exercise: It helps to memorialize her mother, Billie Jo Franko, who died of the autoimmune disease in 1997.

Franko, 39, is one of the chairmen of the Lupus Foundation of Pennsylvania's annual event that marked its 17th run Saturday on the North Shore, and usually attracts about 800 runners and walkers. After her mother passed away, Franko inspired a few dozen relatives and friends to participate in the 5K as a team every year. Getting physically fit is nice, but the cause is even nicer, says the Ross resident.

“I think there has to be a personal connection,” says Franko, who is on the organization's state board of directors. Otherwise, she's not sure she would make the effort just for the sake of exercise — although many avid runners who participate seem eager to do runs, charity or not.

“Everybody's lives are so incredibly busy — often every minute of the day is taken,” she says. “There are a lot of people, in general, who are ... motivated by personal connection to the cause.”

What motivates people to dedicate themselves to train for, and complete, physical endurance events like marathons, 5K walks, triathlons and bicycling events? For hardcore fitness fans, just the exercise alone may do it. But according to a recent Harris Interactive Survey, about one-third of Americans (34 percent) cite altruistic reasons — raising money for a good cause — as their top motivator for participating. By contrast, 27 percent of the roughly 2,200 people interviewed claimed weight loss as their inspiration for participating.

This doesn't surprise Kevin Van Buskirk of Mt. Lebanon, who organized the local 9/11 Heroes Run, a national event that began in 2007 and returned to Pittsburgh for its second year. The Travis Manion Foundation — based in Doylestown, Bucks County — runs the event, which was held Saturday at South Park and attracts about 10,000 runners.

Manion was a Marine killed in Iraq in 2007, and a friend of Van Buskirk's family. The 9/11 Heroes Run aims to help military members and other public servants like firefighters, EMTs and police officers. Half of the proceeds go to the foundation, which supports military service members. The other 50 percent of the funds helps local fire departments. For Van Buskirk, the charitable cause and the health benefits motivate him to do the run, which he and his wife, Bridget, directed last year.

“I think it's something that would really tie these two concepts together,” says Kevin Van Buskirk, 29. “The Manion website says to honor the fallen by challenging the living.

“It's a great event for being able to set goals and go out and get them,” he says. “It's great, too, with this charity. Life is such a privilege, so we might as well go out and challenge ourselves to really see if the best we can do really is.”

According to the survey, charity-run participants are more likely to be young, like the Van Buskirks. People ages 18 to 34 are nearly twice as likely (50 percent) than people 35 and older (26 percent) to be motivated by charitable causes. Other motivators that survey respondents cited include increasing one's health and fitness (32 percent) and conquering a challenge (28 percent). Men were more attracted to the challenge (32 percent) than women (24 percent).

Bridget Van Buskirk, 30, enjoys the physical and emotional benefits of participating in the 9/11 Heroes Run and events like it. She is a yoga instructor and wanted to lose weight after having her second of three children. Planning the event alone is challenging, she says, but worth it.

“This is nothing short of a huge pain ... but it is a really important cause for me,” Van Buskirk says. “I have moments of ‘Oh, I don't want to do this anymore.' But it's not about me. It's about all the other ones who came before me.”

Sometimes Bridget Van Buskirk needs the motivation of a good cause to keep going.

“If I didn't have that, I would have quit a long time ago,” she says.

Chris Schramm, an avid runner from Cheswick, has participated in many races over the years, for charity or just for the run. Now, she is in the midst of organizing the Springdale Library Road to Knowledge 5K, which raises money for library programming. The event, which includes an easy 1K family fun walk, will be held Sept. 15 within two blocks of the library. Schramm, who loves the charity and running, says she sees many motives among runners, even some who just enjoy collecting T-shirts from events.

“A good many run just to run,” Schramm, 43, says. “There are people who couldn't tell you what the charity is. ... They just like running. ‘Here's the money; I had a great time.'

“The people with the fastest time who win these things are the people who run to run,” she says, while participants who walk and act less competitively often are more motivated by charity.

No matter what the reason, the atmosphere at these events energizes Schramm.

“There's so much positive energy bubbling around,” she says. “Everyone has their own reason for being there.”

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 412-320-7824.

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