“You’re the male version of me, only better,” I affectionately joked with Aaron as we wrapped up our call in early November.
I met Aaron Saft at the US Trail Running Conference in October where we were both panelist speakers. He immediately impressed me. If you’re a Runner’s World reader you may remember him from the December issue and know why. Aaron is a 2016 Cover Search Finalist and the honor is rightfully earned.
In 2007, Aaron and his business partner, Scott Socha, opened Foot Rx Running in Asheville, North Carolina. The area code of the town would later influence the name of his foundation (RUN828), but more on that later. Asheville is a small community nestled in western North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, perfect for a trail runner like Aaron.
Talking with Aaron it became clear his running store serves as the altruistic base for building a stronger and more connected community. He shared example after example of how he gives back through running, which made me question why he wasn’t on the cover of the December Runner’s World?
Foot Rx Running’s signature $5 5K races—now a staple in the community—started as blackjack runs. Runners were given playing cards during the course and whoever hit 21 first won a gift card to the store. The themed race caught on and grew in popularity, and Arron and Scott knew they were onto to something and could do more with the race. And so with humble beginnings, the $5 5K—an event created two years ago to give families an affordable race they can do together—has turned into a fundraiser for local nonprofits. I asked Aaron how he selects the beneficiaries.
“I typically select organizations that are meaningful to me, nonprofits I can really get behind. I want to help people, particularly kids. Children’s issues are near and dear to me. Kids are incredibly important to the community and we need to provide for them. Past $5 5K races have supported nonprofits focused on children’s cancer, diabetes, among others.”
Every dollar from the $5 5K races goes directly to the nonprofits; any costs incurred go through the store. I loved hearing Aaron’s stories about curious passerbys wanting to know more about the race and donating money even though they didn’t participate; many returned the following month to race. On average each race makes about $200 or more depending on the organization and in a year the races have raised upwards of $5,000 for the community. Aaron hopes the $5 5K spreads to every community and said he’ll share his race formula with anyone who is interested.
The idea for the RUN828 Foundation grew out of the $5 5K and was formed in February 2015. The mission is to promote healthy, active, outdoor opportunities for families and individuals in western North Carolina by providing support, education, and funding. Everything Aaron shared during the conference would make for an inspirational blog post, but when I heard about the Foundation’s current project, that’s when my jaw dropped and I knew I had to share his story.
In a small town like Asheville—with a population barely reaching 87,000—a community track isn’t a given, but Aaron is on a mission to change this and build one. First up though he said is finding a spot for the track “but that’s the conundrum when you live in the mountains, where can you build a track in an area that is flat and away from the flood plains?”
Aaron’s looking for strategic partners who believe in the idea and want to be involved with the project. He’s putting together a board and growing momentum in the community. Aaron realizes things don’t happen as quickly as in larger metropolitan areas – “It’s hard being patient, but I have to wait for right time and partners. It will come.”
There’s a reason why Aaron was on several panels at the conference; each one represented an opportunity to share more about how he gives back through running. When he couldn’t fit all of the beneficiary requests into the $5 5K schedule, “Giving Tuesdays” was born. The third Tuesday of each month five percent of Foot Rx Running’s sales goes to a nonprofit. “It’s about getting creative with how to give back,” said Aaron.
In his spare time, he and Scott founded NC Mountain Trail Runners, a local running club to establish camaraderie within the running community and provide opportunities for trail advocacy and maintenance. With children a driving focus of his altruism, I wasn’t surprised to hear that Aaron brought the Kids Healthy Running Series to Asheville.
Before we hung up I switched gears to ask Aaron about his proudest running moment. He responded immediately with a slight twist to my question and told me about his happiest running moment. It came this past summer at the Canadian Death Race, a 125K in Grande Cache, Alberta, Canada. His wife and two kids (son 9 yrs.; daughter 5 yrs.) were his crew.
“My kids have never really been a part of my races as they were too young, but at this race they were my crew. They got my water and food, helped me change socks and shoes, they were there for me. They saw how happy I was and they were happy because I was happy. We shared the joy of running together. My kids finally understood why daddy does crazy long runs, eats what he does; the light bulb came on for them. We were together as one, we were a team, and shared a wonderful moment together. It’s one of my most cherished memories.”
Aaron is very humble and gives all the credit to his upbringing. My family was very giving and loving; they raised me to give back and find goodness in everyone, and to share that goodness within the community.
As I sat nervously waiting to present at the conference, I saw a familiar face in the crowd and knew I could get through my talk; after all, I had one of the most generous trail runners rooting for me. Aaron came up after the presentation and told me what I was doing with Small Change inspired him. Little did he know at the time how much he inspired me.
While I’m nowhere on the level of Aaron, my takeaway from the conference (and his compliment) is that it pays big to follow your passion. Aaron has shown us that generosity and benevolence comes in all forms, and you never know who or what you’re inspiring.