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Share the Run with Mr. Run for Good: Ty Akins on philanthropy through running

Ty Akins is many things, including a three-time All American collegiate athlete at Auburn University, where his 110 meter hurdles (mH) record of 13.25 seconds still stands; a retired professional athlete, winning the gold medal in the 110mH at the African Championships in 2014, ranking top ten in the world for the event; but most importantly, he is Mr. Run For Good.

Since beginning his career as a representative for Saucony, Akins has become heavily involved in philanthropy working with organizations such as Black Men Run and Brown Boys Read to empower others through running.

We caught up with Akins via video chat from his Georgia home to learn more about what makes Mr. Run For Good tick.

FF:Who is Mr. Run for Good? Is he different from Tyron Akins?

AKINS: Mr. Run for Good is that guy that wants to make sure everyone is happy, the philanthropist who...if someone doesn’t have what they need to run, steps in and makes sure they have it. Mr. Run for Good is the guy that wants to step in and be the solution to problems.

FF: How did you find yourself in this position?

A: It's crazy, I’m always a catch phrase sort of guy, and our company motto is “Run for Good” and I’ve always been in line with that. If you think about...everything we do in our daily lives, we can put some kind of “goodness” to it.

After the first few times I gave shoes to different high school track teams and coaches...it just kind of caught fire.


FF: Saucony’s Share the Run event raised upwards of $50k for Black Men Run and Black Girls Run last year, how do you see the event growing in the future?

A: I will tell you there is something huge in the making for Saucony and Black Men Run and Black Girls Run, I can’t say yet but it's big. I think moving forward we’re going to do some good things.

You have to realize this too...what Black Men Run stands for is so in line with “Run for Good''...it's so much more than a partnership with Black Men Run. Saucony has been partnered with them for about six or seven years now.

FF: Can you talk more about what Black Men Run does?

A: What Black Men Run stands for is a healthy brotherhood. They’ll tell you, we’re not a running group, we’re a group of guys who have running as a common theme.

They build awareness for hypertension, high blood pressure, and diabetes...doing something that can get you to being healthy and it just so happens that running solves a lot of that.

Jason Russel is one of the co-founders of Black Men Run, and running literally saved his life. He’s a stroke survivor and he started running and went from just basic functioning to now, where you wouldn’t be able to tell he had been through that.

Saucony’s president Anne [Cavassa] is so behind “Run for Good” and sees real opportunity that can change lives. If you handle the [culture] on the front end, selling shoes will follow.

The new consumer wants to know, ‘Where does this product go when I get done using it? Is it sustainable, what are you doing to give back? Who are you helping?’ And you know what? I like it.

Learn more about Black Men Run and the work they do nationwide.

FF: Much of the running industry is led by white individuals. As a POC working in the industry, where are the biggest areas you see that need improvement?

A: It’s weird because on one hand, I had no clue what run speciality was even though I ran in college and professionally. When I started there were three Black reps industry wide, and two of us were at Saucony!

There’s not many Black people in the industry but I think it’s just because people don’t know about it. I think from a standpoint of just knowing, a lot of Black people just don’t know run speciality is there, and because of that you don’t have many Black people working in it.

FF: Do you feel that being one of the few Black brand reps has challenged your image of yourself as a Black man?

A: I actually invite that, I want to be that spokesperson for the “Black guy.” In my job right now, I try to make sure I’m perfect in every aspect of my job...because I want to make sure that [when] the next Black guy or girl comes along, [the company] references me.

I want to make sure that when another person of color comes through you think of me…I wear it with pride. I want to make sure that every step I take with this job is calculated, I try to be perfect and give first-class customer service to my accounts.

One of the things that I don’t want to ever do is play that “victim” role of being the only Black guy. At the end of the day that does no good. It only sets up a system where you can accept failure. It almost handicaps you by giving you an excuse to fail.

If someone does something because I’m Black, it’ll be obvious and everyone will be able to see it and I won’t have to say anything. I try not to put those handicaps and give myself excuses. I love to tackle everything with an offensive mindset.

FF: What role do organizations like Black Men Run have to play in the wake of the death of Ahmaud Aubrey (among many others)?

A: That situation hit so many people, especially the running community.

If there’s one thing you can do, it’s get out and run anywhere. For us [Black people] it's a different experience, we can’t do that. When I go and run, I won’t go in a hoodie or in all black. When I tell people that, they look at me like I’m crazy. It’s crazy that when I leave my house I have to think about that. I run in Auburn gear so people know I’m a coach, because if not what are people thinking?

I was proud how they [Black Men Run] came out and did fundraising and dedicated runs to Ahmaud. I was happy about that. Collectively, the entire running community stepped up and said “Hey this isn’t right.”

With Black Men Run, it really struck a nerve. Take the Boston chapter for example. They’re a new chapter that has just been assembled and they don’t have a dedicated route that they run. When I first met Jeff (the chapter leader), he told me that he makes sure everyone wears Black Men Run uniform so people know we’re not just random guys running. And I thought to myself, “you shouldn’t have to do that.”

You should be able to go running anywhere. It’s the most therapeutic thing you can do. You’re out on your own, you have your thoughts to yourself, whatever the stresses of the day, you can go run.

FF: How is your involvement with Brown Boys Read an extension of “Mr. Run for Good”?

A: A lot of Black and Brown kids’ reading levels are far behind where they’re supposed to be. For whatever reason, whether there’s too much going on at home, or any other reason, they just don’t get the repetition they need to learn how to read.

A few members of Black Men Run will go into schools and read, do some exercises like push-ups, sit-ups, squats, something to keep them engaged and bring activeness to it.

Usually what they do is pair it up with running. We go in and read for 30 minutes, talk about what you read to see if they comprehend it. Then we go outside and do a little run. And what we found out is they loved it. Kids started reading better, they stayed out of trouble, it gave them something to do.

Once Black Men Run went in and started having that repetition, you went from having kids that were embarrassed to read out loud, to volunteering to read out loud.

Learn more about the work Black Men Run, Brown Boys Read here.

FF: What led you to donate shoes to Brown Boys Read in Nashville?

A: We had the Steps of Success 5K in 2019 in Nashville and I was talking to Demitrius Short (CEO of Steps of Success) and he was telling me that some of these kids are running boots, Jordans, whatever they wore to school.

A couple of months passed and I thought about it and called him up one day and said “If you give me some sizes, I’m going to try to get shoes for all of the boys.” Once I figured out that I was able to give the shoes, we [at Saucony] said ‘Let’s make sure we blow it out of the water.’

We did a video where I was actually on the grounds of the school and had a few kids there and presented them the shoes. It was unbelievable. I think any time we can do something like that to motivate kids is unbelievable.

Once I donated the shoes, we had so many people reach out. We had a guy who owns a glasses store in Nashville who said “hey bring the kids in and I can give free eye tests and whoever needs glasses I’ll give them glasses.” We had a sock company donate socks.

FF: What are three words that describe the way running makes you feel?

A: It makes me feel accomplished, respected, and stress-free. It makes me feel accomplished because I can literally see the joy I bring to people’s faces when I do things. Most things that when we look at it from our standpoint and it's not a big deal, but people see it as a big deal, I think that just makes it mean so much more. From a respected standpoint, I think because people know I ran professionally, they look at me like “ok this guy knows what he’s talking about.” I feel stress-free because whatever my issues are I can go outside and take off [on a run] and everything is alright.

When you see people at the start line of a marathon, everybody is on the same page. If you need help with something, you’ve got another runner that’s there, who doesn’t have a clue who you are, ready to help you, because the common enemy is 26.2! Everybody knows, there’s some hard training we’ve done to get to this point...whoever is next to me on this line, knows that same struggle as well.

Learn more about Share the Run with Saucony x Fleet Feet

From February 1 to February 28, 2021, Fleet Feet is teaming up with Saucony to share the love of running and encourage others to set goals, log miles, a create lasting healthy habits.

Consider donating to Black Girls Run to support their mission of developing programming, resources and community around healthy living through running.

Every finisher who completes their challenge goal and enrolls in the Fleet Feet Rewards Program will receive a $15 Reward to use at their local Fleet Fleet or on fleetfeet.com.

Learn More

By Sarah Moxham. Sarah has run competitively for over 12 years. When she isn't working as the Digital Copywriter for FleetFeet.com, she can be found nerding out over art and listening to True Crime podcasts.

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