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Grand Island race director branches out into new fundraising event

Mike O’Neill and his wife, Elaine, had reached that point of wondering what was next. As race director of the Grand Island Half Marathon, O’Neill had a passion for running and helping people become active. He also had experience working with charities, making donations to various organizations as part of his race director duties.

“That’s when this franchise basically dropped into our lap,” O’Neill said.

The franchise is APEX Leadership Company — a fundraising franchise for elementary and middle schools that incorporates leadership and the fundamentals of physical fitness in a fun and inclusive environment.

“This checked a lot of personal boxes,” O’Neill said. “It was doing something from a non-profit standpoint and it was fitness related. I have grandchildren, and I wonder how life is going to be when they grow up here. It’s great to be able to have a positive impact on how they deal with the world going forward with these leadership lessons that our company will be providing to elementary schools.”

The program is a mix of leadership, health and wellness, and fundraising for the school. Here’s how it works:

O’Neill and his team, including college-aged athletes, spend six days in the school, with the athletes delivering a daily leadership lesson, incorporating fitness and nutrition into the plans.

“One of the themes last year included refueling — mentally refueling and physically refueling,” O’Neill said.

It all leads up to the fitness event — an obstacle course run, a “remix” type of dance party, or the fun run. Each event includes a fundraising component, the most popular being the fun run in which students have parents, family, and friends pledge money per lap to be donated to the school.

Students usually run from 26 to 36 laps, with each lap being around 1/16th of a mile. 

“It takes about an hour and it’s a reasonable fitness thing for kids in kindergarten through eighth grades to do,” O’Neill said. “And it’s a number people can wrap their heads around as far as donations go. Some kids want to run 50 laps, but we cap it at 36 so we’re not going crazy on the fundraising expectations.”

The event is often a solid fundraiser for a school, without having to sell products. O’Neill notes that nationally, the APEX program is in 4,100 schools in 32 states and has raised more than $65 million. And part of what makes it attractive is that kids participate regardless of their ability to raise money. It’s an all-inclusive program.

“Not everybody will be donating, but that doesn’t matter,” O’Neill said. “Everybody is included. That’s a really big deal for us. The event day is super high-energy with music and tons of support. It promotes the enthusiasm of the kids, too. It’s just a really cool event.”

And it fits into O’Neill's broader desire to make an impact in Western New York.

“My mission statement is that I want to be an asset for our community,”O’Neill said. “I want to contribute something and have a high impact on greater Buffalo. There are a lot of teachers who are runners out there and when I talk to schools, they are looking for fitness-based programs. They’re not looking to sugar them up. This is a great opportunity.”

Celebrating the U.S. Marine Corps

This year's Iroquois Foundation 4 Miler will pay a special tribute to members and veterans of the U.S. Marines. Current or former Marines receive a discounted race fee as the 4-miler is scheduled for Nov. 10 — the 244th birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps. The race begins at 9:30 a.m. at Iroquois Central School District, 2111 Girdle Road, Elma.

Race Calendar

Saturday, Oct. 5

  • Maggie Lee Memorial for Epilepsy Awareness, 5K, 10 a.m., St. George's Church, 2 Nottingham Terrace
  • Meghan Memorial Cross Country 5K, 10 a.m., Hilbert College, 5200 S. Park Ave., Hamburg
  • Femi 5K, 10 a.m., Marcy Casino, Delaware Park
  • Knights-Kaderli Memorial 5K Run, 11 a.m., East Shelby Fire Hall, 5021 East Shelby Rd., Medina
  • Chowder Challenge, 5K, 11 a.m., Pine Woods Park, North Tonawanda

Sunday, Oct. 6

  • Run for the ACORNS, 10K trail, 5K trail, 9 a.m., Genesee County Park & Forest, Raymond Road, East Bethany
  • Buffalo Home Sellers 5K, 9 a.m., Delaware Park Ring Road
  • Live Love Run 5K, 9 a.m., Silver Creek Central School, 1 Dickinson St., Silver Creak
  • The Bulldog Dash, 5K, 9:30 a.m., Hamburg High School, 4111 Legion Dr., Hamburg
  • NFJC Dash for Diversity, 9K Relay, 10 a.m., Buffalo State College Sports Arena
  • Billies On the Run, 5K, 10 a.m., Williamsville South High School, 5950 Main St., Williamsville
  • Peter Glavin Cross Country Series No. 3, 6K, 11 a.m., Akron Falls Park, 44 Parkview Dr., Akron

Saturday, Oct. 12

  • St. Mark's, Get Set, Go! 5K, 9 a.m., St. Mark's Episcopal Church, 61 Payne Ave., North Tonawanda
  • Fall Festival, 5K, 9:30 a.m., Holiday Valley Resort, Ellicottville
  • LINKS Pink 5K, 9:30 a.m., Northwest Arena, 319 W. Third St., Jamestown
  • The Fred Ruterbusch Memorial 5K, 10 a.m., Steele Hall Athletic Center, SUNY/Fredonia
  • Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, 5K, 10 a.m., Buffalo Outer Harbor Bike Path
  • Crystal Beach 5K Run, 11 a.m., 3878 Erie Rd., Chrystal Beach, Ontario.
  • Niagara Falls Fire Fighters Christmas Toy Drive 5K and 10K, 11 a.m., LaSalle Waterfront Park, Niagara Falls
  • Stadium Blitz-Buffalo, 5K obstacle course race, 5 p.m., New Era Field
  • Lew-Port 5K Glow Run, 6:45 p.m., Lew-Port High School, 4061 Creek Rd., Youngstown

Sunday, Oct. 13

  • Monster Scramble, 5K and 10K, 10 a.m., Holy Cross Cemetery, 2900 South Park Ave., Lackawanna
  • East Eden Tavern 1 Down 1 Up, 1 Mile, 4 p.m., 8163 East Eden Rd., Eden

Saturday, Oct. 19

  • Strider Glider Quarter Marathon, 9 a.m., Westwood Park, 175 Pavement Rd., Lancaster
  • Depew-Lancaster Rivalry Run, 5K, 11 a.m., Depew High School, 4201 South Transit Rd.

Sunday, Oct. 20

  • Niagara Falls International Marathon, Marathon, Half Marathon, 10K, 5K, 9 a.m., Buffalo to Niagara Falls, Ontario
  • Ridge Walk & Run, 25K Run, 10K Trail Run, 5K Trail Run, 9 a.m., Wellsville Campus, Alfred State College
  • Lou Reuter Scholarship Run 5K, 10 a.m., Ben Franklin Middle School, 540 Parkhurst Blvd.

Saturday, Oct. 26

  • GIHS Spooky Sprint 5K, 9 a.m., Veteran's Park, 1845 Bedell Rd., Grand Island
  • 22nd Annual Jack O'Lantern Fall Classic 5K, 10 a.m., Whirlpool State Park, Niagara Falls
  • EVL Halloween Half Marathon and 5K, 11 a.m., Monroe Street, Ellicottville

Sunday, Oct. 27

  • BuffaloRunners Chestnut Ridge Challenge 10K, 9 a.m., Chestnut Ridge Park Casino
  • YellowJacket/Fleet Feet Pumpkins in the Park 5K, 10 a.m., Parkside Lodge, Delaware Park

Friday, Nov. 1

  • BOO Bash & Dash, 5K, 7:30 p.m., Hotel Lafayette, 391 Washington ST.

Saturday, Nov. 2

  • Veterans Race 5K, 9 a.m., Templeton Landing
  • The Mighty Fitz, 5K, 2 p.m., Brickyard Pub, 432 Center St., Lewiston

Sunday, Nov. 3

  • Boys On The Right Track Fall Fun Run, 5K, 9:30 a.m., Nike Base, 2982 Lakeview Rd., Hamburg

Saturday, Nov. 9

  • Lindsay's Legacy Run, 5K, 11 a.m., Clinton Park, Clinton and Broad Streets, Tonawanda

Sunday, Nov. 10

  • Iroquois Foundation 4 Miler Salutes Veterans, 4 Miles, 9:30 a.m., Iroquois Central School, 2111 Girdle Rd., Elma
  • 914th ARW Veterans Recognition Run, 5K, 11 a.m., Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, 10405 Lockport Rd., Niagara Falls

Saturday, Nov. 16

  • Michelle's Memorial 5K, 9 a.m., Middleport Fire Hall, 28 Main St., Middleport
  • Take A Breath For Life, 5K, 11 a.m., Hamburg Fair Grounds, Lower Grandstand, 5600 McKinley Ave., Hamburg

Thursday, Nov. 28

  • 124th Annual YMCA Turkey Trot, 8K, 9 a.m., Delaware Avenue YMCA, 2564 Delaware Ave.

Saturday, Nov. 30

  • Home For The Holidays, 5K, 9 a.m., Orleans County YMCA, 306 Pearl St., Medina
  • Tacky Sweater Run, 5K, 9 a.m., Palace Theater, 2 East Ave., Lockport

Saturday, Dec. 7

  • Niagara PAL Santa Dash, 5K, 9 a.m., Sheraton At The Falls, 300 Third St., Niagara Falls
  • Holly Jolly, 5K, 10 a.m., The Orchard Fresh Plaza, 4050 N. Buffalo St., Orchard Park

Saturday, Dec. 21

  • Caroler 5K Run, 9 a.m., The Irishman Pub & Eatery, 162 Main St., East Aurora
  • Holiday 5K at Old Fort Niagara, 11 a.m., Fort Niagara State Park, Youngstown

Tuesday, Dec. 31

  • New Year's Eve 5K, noon, Fort Niagara State Park, Youngstown
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