Running club trains for half-marathon for charity

John Morse

The newly-founded Villanova Running Club, organized by John Oles, is currently training to run the Allentown Half-Marathon on April 30. This group is determined to run 13.1 miles in order to raise money for Villanova alumnus Richard Travia.

Travia has found himself in a dire situation after a body-surfing accident in Manasquan, N.J., on Aug. 13, 2005. While in the water, a powerful wave smashed Travia’s head into the ocean floor. This impact immediately broke his neck, and it was later determined that his C4 and C5 vertebrae had been severely shattered.

After enduring two long surgeries and a collapsed right lung, Travia began physical and occupational therapy, six days a week for several hours. Currently, he has shoulder, bicep and wrist movement, and continues to have hope for increased muscle control and mobility.

Oles decided to dedicate his group’s running campaign to raising money for Travia’s medical expenses after experiencing some bad times of his own. Oles had just lost his grandfather and was dealing with setbacks in school, but when he heard about Travia’s tragic accident, Oles decided to make Travia the recipient of the group’s hard work.

“This could happen to anyone,” Oles said. “I thought I was having a bad week, but I couldn’t imagine not running, walking or playing sports.”

Oles had developed his group mainly as an alternative form of Get Real groups, in which running could be used as a medium for sharing life experiences and talking about issues that were on students’ minds.

Running Club member Ryan O’Connor said, “Johnny Oles’ running group is not one simply focused on the aspect of running; it is a growing group of love, communication and encouragement. There is the meeting and greeting with each other, sharing feelings of the day, of your past, of the future, of your soul.”

Oles formed this group of runners in order to share a common desire, to allow students to escape campus and relate to each other, to build off of each other and to encourage each other. Students’ running skills are developed, as are the relationships between the group members.

“Johnny makes running something desirable,” O’Connor said. “It is not a monotonous exercise with more – another mile, another conversation, another sun ray glistening on the road, another afternoon to forever cherish.”

Oles wanted the group to have a cause to run for, when he stumbled upon Richard Travia’s accident and decided that he wanted to help out. He presented this idea to the group, which responded positively.

The group currently meets Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons. They usually run about three to four miles per outing, or six to seven miles on Fridays. And while this amount of running may seem daunting, the group is very inclusive and always tries to run together. If they do end up running at different paces, they always make sure they wait for the last runners to finish.

The Running Club has encountered a few struggles. In addition to knee and shin injuries, the group also struggles to schedule times when all members are available to participate in the effort. Despite their inclusiveness, many are still intimidated by the mileage this group can rack up in one day, and many potential runners fear they will not be able to keep up with the rest of the group. Despite these setbacks, the group has been able to thrive.Many of the runners said they are excited to be able to pursue their love of running.

“It is great to exercise and meet new people at the same time,” Amy Cassidy, a group runner, said. “We are all now training for the Allentown Half-Marathon which should be a lot of fun.  It is especially nice that we are running for a cause as well.”

Another group member expressed similar sentiments stating, “Running is life. You go out and are racing yourself, pushing yourself further and further beyond what you thought possible. Finishing is the goal, despite possibility of someone finishing before you. After hearing such stories as Richard’s, you realize how lucky you are to be capable to do the things you love. It feels great to dedicate this race to him.”

As he approaches graduation in May, Oles said he hopes to leave an impression on his runners and instill something in them for the future. He hopes they each realize how lucky they are to be running and that they can use running as a means to learn about themselves. Oles added that running is not only a form of exercise for his Running Club, but also an escape into their own thoughts.

In his book “Going The Distance,” George Sheehan writes, “Running has made this new me. Taken the raw material and honed it and delivered it back to do the work of a human being. I run so I do not lose the me I was yesterday and the me I might become tomorrow.”

Oles said he hopes the rest of the Villanova community will aid in the group’s fundraising efforts. The Richard Travia website, at, has details about Richard’s life, his contributions to the Villanova community and his achievements.