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Zachary Ornelas and Dawn Grunnagle: Racing to Inspire the Next Generation of Runners

 


Both Dawn Grunnagle and Zachary Ornelas were drawn to run the 2016 TCS New York City Marathon because of New York Road Runners’ devotion to youth. More than 215,000 students are served locally and nationally through NYRR’s free youth running programs throughout the year, with approximately 120,000 of those students in New York City’s five boroughs. 
 
Let’s start with Grunnagle, who grew up in Green Bay, WI, and, just like the president of events for New York Road Runners and race director of the TCS New York City Marathon, Peter Ciaccia, is a die-hard Green Bay Packers fan.  
 
Grunnagle attended Texas Tech on a full track scholarship and finished her eligibility at the University of Houston, but after graduating, put her running career on hold to pursue teaching. She spent 10 years as an elementary school teacher in Dallas before reigniting her desire to run competitively. She kick-started the second phase of her running career by qualifying for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials in the 1500 meters. 
 
Looking to create a more flexible schedule for herself as a professional runner, she left teaching to coach youth runners.  
 
Her after-school coaching sessions led to the launch of her own business, SpeedKIDZ, a program for youth ages 4-18. It started off just for girls, but now also includes a boys’ team and a scholarship program. 
 
“The idea was to develop the all-around female athlete, not just through running, but through leadership, academics, patience, dedication to yourself and community, and service to others,” Grunnagle said. “So many youth sports now focus on how fast you can run or what your stats are; it’s kind of a little cutthroat. So this is about bringing back what sport is all about and how much you can learn from it in your community.” 
 
Grunnagle’s schedule accommodates training, giving her ample time to transition to the longer distances; she competed at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials and owns a personal best of 2:49:46, but is still relatively new to running 26.2 miles. A run through the five boroughs on November 6 is sure to give her some valuable experience over the distance.
 
Then there’s Ornelas, the 2015 USATF 50K road national champion with the sixth-fastest time ever by a North American. After winning the Detroit Marathon in 2013 and 2015, he wants to reach the next tier of professional marathoners with a sub-2:20:00 performance in the near future. He’s come close to breaking the barrier in both of his Detroit victories: He won the 2013 race in 2:20:11 and the 2015 race in 2:20:22. Having competed at the Armory in Manhattan and Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx while in high school, he’s eager to return to the five boroughs.
 
“I wanted to do a fall marathon this year where I could really get some of the top dogs to push me under my personal-best time,” Ornelas said. “New York has such a historic marathon, so that’d be a great place to have a major breakthrough this fall.” 
 
The son of an Army intelligence officer, Ornelas graduated from the University of Michigan in 2013 with a degree in English education; he also competed in cross country and track for the Wolverines. For the past three years, he’s taught freshman English and coached cross country at a high school in Dearborn, MI, all while managing to put in 100 miles per week on the roads.
 
“I like to think it adds 20 or 30 miles to my legs, standing up eight hours a day teaching without getting to sit down,” Ornelas joked. “Running’s like my reward at the end of each day. It’s something I always pursue to do that’s not my job. It’s nice to relax with a long run after a day of teaching.”

With its symbolism, allusion, and allegory, Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is his favorite classroom text, not only because Hemingway was once a Michigan resident, but because it represents his entire curriculum in 80 pages.

“The discipline I learned through running is how I’m able to keep up with my lesson plans and teach on days when I’m really tired,” he said. “The kids also like knowing that I do something besides teaching and they ask about it. When I tell them each day how many miles I’m running, they always freak out.”

How his students will react to his time at the TCS New York City Marathon remains to be seen, but he’ll be back in the classroom soon after finishing his first five-borough run on November 6.

By Stuart Lieberman

GET YOUR STORIES ON. Read more inspiring stories from runners chronicling their journeys to the TCS New York City Marathon starting line.

TUNE IN. The 2016 TCS New York City Marathon will be televised live on Sunday, November 6, on WABC-TV, Channel 7 in the New York tri-state area from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. ET, and for the rest of the nation on ESPN2 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. ET.