By Debbie Adams
In early November the team from Fleet Feet Roanoke came to Mount Pleasant Elementary School to measure the feet of the 57 members of the Mount Pleasant Elementary Running Club.
On November 21, owners Robin and Blaine Lewis, along with Joe Dudak and Meghan Dennis, returned to fit those 57 pairs of running shoes that they donated to the members of the club, funded by their non-profit Project Forward.
Project Forward was founded in August 2015 by the Lewises, who have a passion for helping others and giving back to the community.
In December 2014, Balega International, a leading performance sock brand in the run and outdoor specialty markets, awarded Fleet Feet Roanoke the Ubuntu Award, a community service award that recognizes thoughtful actions that have long lasting effects on the lives of people in local communities. Through the money awarded to Fleet Feet Roanoke for the Ubuntu Award, the Lewises were able to launch Project Forward.
Over the past 8 years, Project Forward has raised over $22,000 for local charities, and donated over 1,000 pairs of shoes. The mission is to allow the citizens of Roanoke to have access to good shoes and a means to move, ultimately creating a happier and healthier community.
Some of the organizations they have supported include: Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Virginia, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southwest Virginia, the West End Center for Youth’s Summer Programs, Girls on the Run Roanoke Valley, the Rescue Mission Running Club, the Wellness Advocate Program and patients at the Bradley Free Clinic, the Patrick Henry High School, James Madison Middle School and Cave Spring High School Student Outreach Programs, the Cross Country team at Breckinridge Middle School and the Cross Country and Track Teams at Lucy Addison Middle School, William Fleming High School, and Patrick Henry High School.
The MPE Running Club, sponsored by PE teacher Allison Angell, meets after school on Thursdays to run or walk the track. The club is made up of fourth and fifth graders and some of their siblings. Angell has been teaching at Mount Pleasant for 19 years. She believes the club was founded about 14 years ago.
Project Forward purchased New Balance brand shoes for the MPE Running Club. Robin Lewis says New Balance is a great company to work with on projects such as this. Students also received new socks from Feetures. The company called and asked Fleet Feet if they needed socks for their non-profit and sent an entire pallet with 5,500 pairs of high-quality footwear. Balega has also donated 1,000 pairs of socks to the organization.
Angell and the Lewises became acquainted through the running community in the Roanoke Valley, which Angell says is a very tight-knit and an “amazing” group. Some local runners regularly stop by on Thursday afternoons to run with the MPE students, including Angell’s husband David who is a locally recognized and nationally ranked runner. Angell says local runners display a great desire to be good role models for the children in the area.
A conversation among runners at the 2019 Go-Fest Go Outside Festival led to the MPE Running Club students being outfitted. Angell says she and the Lewises emailed back and forth. Robin Lewis said, “let’s make this happen,” and offered to fit all the members. “How sweet is that?” said Angell.
According to parent Maryna Mabes, Angell deserves the Golden Apple achievement award for being “such a motivator” for her students, including Mabes’ two sons, fifth grader Ariston and fourth grader Dmitry. Mabes says Angell “shows by example.”
Ariston began running with the MPE club when he was just in first grade with special permission from Angell who only asked that a parent be there to supervise.
Now Mabes says she and her husband have a hard time getting Ariston to stop running. He keeps a log and sometimes runs seven or eight miles a day.
The MPE Running Club members keep track of their miles by collecting a popsicle stick at the end of every lap. Four laps equal a mile. Recently Ariston collected 17 of those popsicle sticks in one afternoon—that’s a little over 4 miles.
Mabes says that Angell’s husband, David, has especially been an inspiration for Ariston, who has competed in 5K races locally and at the State Games of America at Liberty University last summer. Both Ariston and Dmitry competed in the 5K. Ariston’s time was 19:42. Ariston also ran the 400m, 800m, and mile races.
Her sons will be running the Drumstick Dash in Roanoke on Thanksgiving Day, which benefits the Rescue Mission. In the 2018 Drumstick Dash, Ariston placed first in his age group with a time of 20:06.
Ariston says his goal is “to beat Mr. Angell.”
David Angell won the Roanoke Valley District championship in cross country during his high school career at Franklin County High School and five ODAC titles in cross country and track at Roanoke College. He has competed extensively nationally and even internationally. So Ariston has quite a record to match.
Ariston has his first pair of running shoes—worn completely out—and his running medals from various races on display in his room.
The MPE Running Club students were extremely grateful for the new shoes and thanked the Fleet Feet team profusely as they were fitted. Several said they are sure they will be much faster with the new shoes.
The students and staff had prepared a video for Fleet Feet and delivered a box of Thank You cards to show their appreciation. Principal Dana Stevens said that in her 23 years at Mount Pleasant she had never seen such a gesture before. One student on the video said he planned “to run until I pass out.”
On the afternoon the students were fitted for their new shoes, several members of Roanoke County Schools administrative staff were on hand to thank Fleet Feet as well: Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Dr. Rebecca Eastwood, Community Relations Specialist Chuck Lionberger, Chief Information Officer Jeff Terry, Director of Facilities and Operations Mark Kitta, and Supervisor of Health, Physical Education, and Driver’s Education Kevin Burcham.