For more than four decades now, Grandma’s Marathon has been more than just a 26.2-mile road race in northeastern Minnesota. It’s turned into a holiday of sorts, a yearly gathering of more than 20,000 runners along the scenic shores of Lake Superior.
“It’s my favorite weekend of the year,” Duluth native Alissa Boyhtari said. “I think it’s a mix of hometown pride and being totally in awe of people who run the marathon.” Boyhtari’s something of a runner herself; a still-standing program record and all-conference accolades at UW-Superior act as her most outstanding credentials. All of it, though, may have never happened without Grandma’s Marathon and its charity arm, the Young Athletes Foundation. “The saying goes, ‘Give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world,’” Boyhtari said, “and I have seen that hold true in my own life.”
Rewind to Boyhtari’s sophomore year at Duluth Denfeld High School, the year she received a certificate from her coaches to help buy her first-ever pair of track spikes. “They were black with silver chrome on the bottom and faint yellow outline around the white Nike swoosh,” Boyhtari recalled. “Those shoes gave me a sense of belonging. They gave me the confidence to do all sorts of things.”
Things like, years later, volunteering at an event called “Wednesday Night at the Races.” That popular program brings together kids from all over the area to local tracks, and it was here Boyhtari had a realization – this was the organization, the Young Athletes Foundation, that had provided money for that free shoe certificate she received in high school.
“Originally, I was volunteering to get a good workout in during the summer,” Boyhtari admits, “but working with the kids reminded me of where I came from. It was my turn to help the next one in line. I wanted them to understand their worth is not in their abilities or results, but in their determination, excitement, and willingness to try their best.” And so, a coach was born. Following her time in college at UW-Superior, Boyhtari is now a multi-sport coach at South Ridge High School near Duluth. Still volunteering, and now the chairperson of the Young Athletes Foundation committee, her message now is the same as it was then.
“Every time I see one of my athletes with new shoes, I flash back to that day,” Boyhtari said. “They are feeling the same excitement and joy that I did, and I get to see firsthand the transformation – joy turns into hard work, and hard work turns into passion. It’s a simple thing, but it means so much.”
So maybe the saying is true – “Give a girl a pair of shoes, and she can conquer the world.” Not only has Boyhtari done that herself, but she’s also now helping the next generation of young athletes get opportunities to do the same.
To learn more about the Young Athletes Foundation and Grandma’s Marathon, please visit grandmasmarathon.com/young-athletes-foundation/.