May / 2020

Austin Runners Club President, Iram Leon, on Giving Back

The Daisy 5K is Austin’s oldest 5K event. Hosted by local nonprofit organization Austin Runners Club and held every year since 1978, the Daisy would have marked its 43rd annual run this month, if it weren’t for COVID-19. Originally scheduled for May, this year’s 5K was postponed due to the global coronavirus pandemic. But while the Daisy is indefinitely on hold, the coronavirus can’t stop ARC from continuing its charitable efforts: Since this year’s run was set to benefit Marathon Kids, the nonprofit has committed to doubling all donations to Marathon Kids during the month of May, up to $10,000.

Founded in 1974 for charitable as well as health and educational purposes, Austin Runners Club seeks to “promote and encourage running, walking, wheelchair racing, and related activities in order to educate the public to their benefits.” This mission makes it a natural match for Marathon Kids, whose mission is to instill in children a lifelong love of running and set them on a path toward a healthier future.

Being A Human Is Being A Runner

The president of Austin Runners Club, Iram Leon, has long been a Marathon Kids supporter. His daughter, Kiana, was a Marathon Kid in elementary school. Now 13 years old, Kiana is an accomplished runner, and she and her father still enjoy running together. “I think Marathon Kids helped instill her love of running,” Iram says. “She did her first 5K when she was eight and her first 10K at 10. She recently completed the Austin Distance Challenge Half-Track, in which she ran a 5K, a 10-miler and three half-marathons. She was the youngest participant, but we ran the entire thing side by side.”

Iram started running as a child as well, when he was in third grade. “People ask me when I started running, but all you have to do is look at a child shortly after they start walking and you’ll see they’re trying to move faster. Being a human is being a runner.” He encouraged that movement in his daughter, and was pleased when she joined the run club at school. “She’d do Marathon Kids on the weekdays, and then on the weekends we would do things like run on the track going in opposite directions, high-fiving each other.”

Iram is deeply and personally familiar with the importance of running, for both physical and emotional health. After running recreationally and competitively for more than 20 years, running took on new significance in his life at age 30, when he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.

Running As Therapy, Running For Life

“Shortly after I turned 30,” Iram says, “I woke up with a Grand Mal seizure. I found out I had brain cancer that has a 10-year survival rate of only 12 percent, so statistically speaking, I wasn’t supposed to make it to 40.” For several years, he was unable to drive due to recurring seizures, but he kept running. “I actually put off my initial brain surgery to run a marathon, the first I’d qualify for Boston on,” he says. “Running was and is my therapy.”

It has continued to play this same role in his life since mid-March, when Austin’s Stay-at-Home orders went into effect. “I’ve kept running every single day through the pandemic. On Wednesday, May 20, it will actually be two years since I missed a day of exercise. I’ve done a few virtual races. I did a virtual trail marathon with the chairman of the [Marathon Kids] board on the greenbelt on May 17. We got lost and actually covered a little over 28 miles.”

Marathon Kids Board Chair, Chris McClung and ARC President, Iram Leon

Twenty-eight miles isn’t terribly tough for this seasoned long-distance runner, who is used to daily runs of seven to ten miles and longer runs on weekends. “Occasionally I do two-a-days. But for the most part, lately I’ve actually been running longer but easier.”

He isn’t sure when he’ll have the opportunity to take part in a race again. “Some that I planned to be a part of have been canceled from March through September,” he says. There are other important events on the horizon, however, including an MRI in coming weeks and a milestone birthday in August. “If all goes well and I get to August 8 this year,” Iram says, “I’ll have made it to 40. There was a study that showed that long-distance runners with brain cancer have a higher survival rate, so I quite literally run for life.”

Joining Austin Runners Club For Community, And Now, To Give Back

Iram has served as president of the Austin Runners Club for the past five years, taking it one year at a time. “My time [as ARC president] ends soon,” he says, “but when I first got to Austin, it was their events that got me back into racing for the first time since college. Since I was diagnosed with brain cancer, they were the ones who gave me rides to get to workouts and races. So when someone nominated me to be president, it was my chance to formally return to them and the running community at large.”

He feels a deep commitment to the organization and its mission. “They’ve been around since 1974,” he points out. “An all-volunteer organization that’s been around since longer than I’ve been alive owns the oldest 5K in town and the Decker Challenge—both around over 40 years, and always run by volunteers. That just shows that it’s a simple community thing to run together.”

Community is the basis of the Austin Runners Club, and it’s an important aspect of the sport for Iram, especially on those days when running feels tougher than usual and motivation is running low. “I rarely run alone,” he says, “so the accountability partnerships help. Some days you help each other out—when one of you is down, hopefully the other is up. But even if you’re both down, or several of you are, that company and the keeping moving helps.”

At this point, running is simply a way of life for Iram. “I just love my sport for the run of it. I’ve never given it up, and I never intend to.”

Visit MarathonKids.org/donate/ during the month of May to have your donation to Marathon Kids matched by Austin Runners Club. You can also visit AustinRunners.org to learn more about the ARC, including the benefits of membership (dues are just $30 a year!) as well as annual events like the Austin Distance Challenge and the Decker Challenge (a classic Austin half-marathon set for December 2020).