Towne Salute: Susan Noble and Lori Coogan of Hero Boys Run Club
Lori Coogan, Susan Noble, and Jon Brianas
When asked by their sons why there was an after-school running program for girls, but not for them, fitness coaches Susan Noble and Lori Coogan didn’t have an answer. So they decided to create one.
The pilot program, named HERO Boys Run Club, was launched in 2013 at Arnold Elementary School. The two women, realizing they needed a male partner in this venture, turned to their friend Jon Brianas.
“We knew we wanted to have a positive male role model in front of the boys and send a positive message … that you can find the hero within you,” Noble says. “And that’s how it started.”
While brainstorming about the club in the spring of 2013, Brianas developed various engagement topics for the eight-week program that the kids would discuss each week. The after-school enrichment program launched that fall.
By 2016, the program was active in 22 schools within Anne Arundel County. Schools in Howard, Prince George’s, Baltimore, and Queen Anne’s counties also participated, as well as schools in six other states. Noble estimates that about 400 elementary schoolers now participate in HERO Run Boys Club throughout Maryland, with approximately 200 students participating nationwide.
“We expected it to grow, but not this quickly,” says Coogan, explaining that they were familiar with the Girls on the Run program, which they modeled their organization after, and how quickly the girls-only group had expanded across the country.
For those unfamiliar, Girls on the Run is a national program for third through fifth graders.
“Their focus is the same thing. They finish with a graduation 5K,” Coogan says. “But their program is longer with a lot more engagement topics.”
For the boys group, the organizers wanted the crux of the program to comprise of meaningful messages that would resonate with students, but they knew if the program was too long, the kids would lose interest. The focus, the women say, is on fun. As parents to boys, the women know that while some structure is necessary, they inevitably have to let boys be boys.
“Boys just want to run,” Noble adds, with a laugh.
In the spring of 2015, the HERO Boys Run Club held its first 5K race at Kinder Farm Park in Severna Park. The run welcomed 205 finishers—a number that more than doubled last year for the club’s second annual 5K at Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds.
“We’ll be holding another run there in the spring of 2017,” Noble adds.
It’s no surprise that the group has received nothing but positive feedback from participants’ parents. The program’s success and popularity is, in part, due to the camaraderie, team building, and constructive personal development that each student experiences.
“We don’t emphasize, for example, being the fastest runner,” Coogan says. “We just want to make sure that you’re doing your best.”
Additionally, the two women believe the program is loved by parents because it takes place after school—or, in some cases, before—right on campus.
“We found [Arnold] to be a place with so many over-scheduled kids. And this is the place where it’s not about ‘I have to get a ride there,’ or ‘my mom has to drive me here,’” Noble adds.
For many schools in other areas, however, this conflict was non-existent. After its initial year, HERO Run Boys Club was contacted by various Title I schools in the state that had no after-school activities. Through grants, fundraising programs, community support, and the efforts of many volunteers, the club established programs at these schools, granting students access to something they perhaps otherwise wouldn’t experience.
“Kids just need to know they have that support. You get your team around you and you feel like there’s nothing you can’t do,” Noble says. “This is their place to shine.”
For more information, visit heroboys.org.