Board President of the Road Runners Club of America George Rehmet
One of the greatest things about the sport of running is that it is a sport for everyone. A sport where anyone can run, doesn’t matter where you’re from, the neighborhood you grew up in or the color of your skin, running is a universal sport. When race day approaches everyone at that start line has one common goal TO FINISH. Thousands of runners all moving in one motion, forward. Sadly the run community and most of the larger brands doesn’t fully represent all cultures and the people who represent them. One person that is working to change that is George Rehmet, the President of the Road Runners Club of America otherwise known as (RRCA).
MSM: Firstly we’d like to say thank you. From the time we launched this publication you have been one of our biggest supporters of Mid Strike Magazine. We are sincerely grateful for your words of encouragement and support. With that being said, welcome to Mid Strike Magazine. For our readers, who is George Rehmet?
George: I’m 54 years old. I am biracial with my mother coming from the Philippines and my father from Australia. I was born and raised in San Francisco. I live with my wife and daughter in Daly City which is just south of San Francisco. I’m a special education teacher for the San Mateo County Office of Education. I’ve been a teacher for nearly 30 years. I currently teach math, history, and science to students grades 7 to 12 who suffer from severe mental health issues. My students live in a residential facility due to their own safety or the safety of others. The students have gone through traumatic experiences that no child should ever go through. I have students who were bullied so much because of the way looked and/or for their gender identities that they were driven to self-harm and there are students who are suffering from delusions. I’ve been a teacher for nearly 30 years.
I love to run all distances but my favorite is the marathon. I’ve done 152 marathons and ultras. My goal is to run a marathon in all 50 states and I have 8 states left. I am a member of several running clubs: Dolphin South End Runners (DSE), Pamakid Runners, Pinoy Runners and Mid-Peninsula Running Club. I am also an open water swimmer and love swimming in San Francisco Bay (mostly without a wetsuit) and I belong to the South End Rowing Club.
Finally, I am the current President of the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA). The RRCA is the oldest and largest distance running organization in the United States with over 2000 running club and event members representing 200,000 individual runners active in their running communities. The RRCA President and the Board of Directors are all volunteer positions, and together we are responsible for the governance of the RRCA. The CEO, who is Jean Knaack, is responsible for the strategic direction and overseeing the day-to-day operations of the organization. Just to let you readers know that to oversee a national organization, it is Jean and 3 other staff members in the national office – for a small staff, they do amazing work. My primary role is to lead the Board of Directors and be the primary contact with our CEO to ensure we successfully lead the organization.
MSM: We all begin our run journeys at various stages in our lives all for specific reasons for yourself where did your journey begin and what was your why?
George: Back in the fall of 1981, it was my first day of high school and I heard on the announcements to come to the meeting about joining cross country. Back then, I was a big skier so I was thinking it must be “cross country skiing.” Of course, living in San Francisco where there is no snow, my teenage “very wishful” brain is thinking that there must be a gym with special equipment on the school campus. So, I go to the meeting and realize that it is about running. I decided to stay when I saw a couple of sophomores who went to my middle school and they were geeky like me so I decided if I have to join a school group I might as well be in a group of students that I know.
I remember after my first workout, my legs were so sore that I shuffled back home. Cross country was tough but my fellow runners were supportive and that helped me to develop into a bette runner over time. In my freshman year, I finished near the back of pack at races. In my sophomore year, I was finishing in the middle. In my junior year, I made varsity for the last race of the season. For my senior year, I was awarded “Most Inspirational Runner.”
Based on these positive experiences, my mindset was that running was a good thing on many levels – the camaraderie, the health benefits, exploring, the thrill of competition, and achieving personal goals.
MSM: You’re a very consistent runner in the community, always on the move, always getting in the miles give our readers a peek into some of the races that you’ve run. What are some of your favorites, some of the races that stand out?
George: My favorite is the Napa Valley Marathon which is located about 90 minutes northeast of San Francisco. It was the only race in which I broke 3 hours in 1999 and it came nearly a year after the death of my father who would take the family to the region for short vacations. I also did my 100th marathon there in 2014. I know the folks that put on the race and they are so welcoming. It is a peaceful race among the vineyards and offers a nice slight downhill race to try for a Boston Qualifier time.
What I love about the San Francisco Half Marathon (along with a 10K and 5K) is that it not only goes through Golden Gate Park but that it’s put on by my running club, Pamakids. It’s held on the first Sunday in February and we say that it’s a “race for runners put on by runners.” For all 3 distances, they all have net downhills so I have PR’ed at this race. Both this race and Napa have been awarded Outstanding Road Race of the Year by the RRCA.
The Oakland Running Festival is a race that I have run every year since it started. My teaching career started in Oakland and the race is a way to honor my career roots. I love running on the Bay Bridge.
Going 2.5 hours south of San Francisco is the Big Sur International Marathon down in Monterey County. There is something inspiring and awesome about running on land that comes up against the vast Pacific Ocean. As long as it’s not foggy, it is scenic – so bring your camera.
With trail racing, I would have to go with San Bruno Mountain (currently a 5k) as it’s put on by my home club, the DSE and it’s close to my home which is like running in my own backyard. On a clear day, the views of central Bay Area are wonderful. And for full disclosure, I used to direct this race.
MSM: I’ve seen a lot of trail running from you. It’s something us city runners kind of push off to the side as we don’t realize or understand the benefits that come from trail running. What’s your preference as a runner and what are some of the ways trail running can be beneficial?
George: I like to mix up road and trail running. The main benefit of trail running is that it works the muscles that running on roads cannot do as the terrain and elevation varies. Trail running is tougher so it develops grit or toughness. Nevertheless, trail running is softer on the joints and bones due to being on the dirt surfaces. Finally, trail running is an opportunity to get your Vitamin N – “N” for “nature.” There is something calming and peaceful about running in nature. If I had a rough day at work, I’ll try to hit the trails and the next day I’ll be back in the classroom smiling and the students will say to me, “You had a good run yesterday- didn’t you, Mr. Rehmet?”
MSM: One thing I’ve noticed about you is as a president you are very close to the ground when it comes to representing runners that are diverse and you’re very in tune with the things we are still fighting for as a community. Most people that are in positions like yours tend to only watch from the top rather than to be in the trenches. That usually comes with the experience of understanding the feelings and thoughts of your peers. What have been some of the things that have helped you prepare for such a position?
George: Thank you for the kind words. I work with very vulnerable populations in my field. My students want to communicate, they want to be accepted, and they want to be safe. To get my job done as a teacher I need to not only listen but read their body language and try to understand their situations and backgrounds. In all, I think that my experiences as a special education teacher have shaped me greatly in wanting to listen to people and understand their experiences and what outcomes that they are looking for. In addition, the core message that I tell my students is that the purpose of education is to see things “outside your box.” I need to see things “outside my box” and that’s why I seek out different voices whether they will make me feel comfortable or uncomfortable.
With runners that are diverse, I need to understand their experiences and what they want/need to be safe and accepted in the larger community. These conversations inform my decision making and motivates me to keep making the changes. One thing I have to add is I hope to use my privilege as the RRCA President to send the message that I and the RRCA value you as runners and show that your stories need to be told.
MSM: Let’s chat about The Road Runners Club Of America. This is a club that was founded in February 1958 by Browning Ross which to me is very interesting. As I type this I’m giving myself a history lesson which I’m pretty sure for people that are reading this will have the same reaction. That being said, give us a little history lesson of the RRCA. As I’ve gone through past presidents one thing that I’ve noticed is that the RRCA has certainly adjusted with the times with having a more diverse panel and members.
George: The RRCA was founded with the purpose that membership includes runners, officials, race sponsors, coaches, and more. Ross envisioned the group would encourage running, meet regularly, raise funds, coordinate schedules, recruit sponsors, and promote competition in long-distance races. For over to 60 years, the RRCA has stayed true to its founding principles. Through Ted Corbitt, the 3rd RRCA president and famous ultra-runner, course certification was developed. The process is still used today, but under USA Track & Field’s purview.
Over the years, the RRCA has been a leading voice for fair competition and women’s full inclusion in the sport. The RRCA was the first organization to create and promote a youth running program model, which has seen tens of thousands of copies of its program curriculum used throughout the country since the mid-1980s. While female leadership has been evident in the RRCA’s history, inclusion of leaders of color has been lacking throughout RRCA history. Ted Corbitt was the first and only Black President of the RRCA. I happen to be the second BIPOC to be President and the first Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) President.
In 2020, the organization reviewed its history of board members and determined in the 60 years of the organization, there had have only been 6 BIPOC board members with 3 of those members having been elected in the last few years. This review outlined that the RRCA has historically not done well at engaging and including people of color. However, it also provided the current RRCA Board with benchmark data to push current and future leaders of the organization to do better at recruiting and including BIPOC members on the Board.
The RRCA is now working to make “representation matters” from runners to leaders in the sport. We recognize it will take time to build diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in our organization, but we are committed our vision of empowering everyone to run.
MSM: When did you become a member of the RRCA and when did you have the feeling of knowing that being the RRCA president was something that you wanted to do?
George: The RRCA has ambassadors in all 50 states that promote the organization, and they are referred to as State Representatives – State Reps for short. I was appointed as an RRCA State Rep in 2000. In that role, what I enjoyed most was meeting the various club leaders and experiencing their different styles and sharing the many benefits of the RRCA membership. More importantly, what attracted me initially to the RRCA was the mission of growing and supporting the sport of running. Growing up in a female household and being in the female dominated profession, I appreciated how the RRCA encouraged females to run.
A few years later, several Bay Area clubs wanted to host the RRCA National Convention, and they asked me to be the convention director. In 2009, the convention was a big success and it set the standard for future RRCA Convention. That year, I was awarded, for a second time, as the Outstanding State Representative, which was unprecedented. So you might say that I had made a name for myself within RRCA circles.
In 2015, I was asked to run for the RRCA Board of Directors, where I was elected as Western Region Director. At that point in time, I did not expect nor have a desire to be president. But after a couple of terms in, Jean asked me to run for president. There were several reasons why I accepted. First, I had a very positive working relationship with Jean over many years. Second, she pointed out I was a person who really listens to others. Also, it also dawned on me that I had a responsibility as a BIPOC person to represent as a leader in the sport of running. Finally, I felt that there were still opportunities for the RRCA (awesome as it is!) to continue to improve and grow as a national organization.
MSM: What I’ve come to love about the RRCA are the core values and the commitment to diversity and inclusion. Something that I myself as a runner continues to struggle with daily. Take us through the core values of the RRCA.
George: Thanks for pointing that out as it means a lot. It is important to note that in 2020, the organization went through a process to update our Bylaws, which serve as the governing document for the organization. Through discussions, it became clear that a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion had to be included in this important document to ensure future leaders understand they have a duty to DEI work. Revising the mission statement served as a bit of a cornerstone for the work in updating the bylaws along with our purpose statement our vision statement and ultimately our values statements. We are currently in the process of updating the RRCA strategic plan and as part of that work we have somewhat evolved the values to be consistent with the historical values while looking to the future of the sport and the RRCA. Given where we are at with this effort, I’m comfortable providing a sneak peek at the updated values for RRCA.
- Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: We believe in providing equal opportunities for everyone to participate in and contribute to the sport of running, where all are safe, welcome, and have a sense of belonging. The success of the sport is enhanced by the leadership and contributions of people of diverse backgrounds, experiences, and identities.
- Integrity: We strive for the highest ethical and professional standards for our organization and the sport. We believe in fair competition, no cheating, anti-doping compliance, and respect by participants for race and club rules and policies.
- Excellence: We strive to deliver the highest possible quality and value in our programs and services, as well as to employ best practices in organizational governance and management.
- Collaboration: We believe in the power of working together with people and organizations that value our mission and vision. Fostering positive relationships with members, volunteers, donors, and sponsors will enable our success.
MSM: A successful President/leader is only as strong as his/her peers that are running together behind the scenes. Take our readers through a typical day as President of the RRCA, also who are some of the folks that help you keep everything on track?
George: Unlike the CEO Jean Knaack, I do not oversee the day-to-day operations of the RRCA. Every few weeks, Jean and I have check-in meetings where we go over key items and plan for upcoming board meetings and forecast action items for the organization. There are several committees and working groups that I participate in throughout the year. An important working group developed last year was the Diversity Working Group. Through those discussions, RRCA leaders had the opportunity to listen to feedback and determined that the first step to improving DEI was to address our own shortcomings as an organization. Thus, the process for revising the RRCA Bylaws was started, and that included multiple working group meetings, reviewing drafts and commentary, and following the process for approving updated bylaws for the RRCA. Currently, we have been working on updating the RRCA Strategic Plan to carry us from 2021 to 2025. We have two in-person meetings a year, one at RRCA Convention and one in the fall. We supplement with Zoom meetings about every two to three months between the in-person meetings.
Outreach is an important duty for the RRCA President. So, I am on social media promoting the RRCA, and I visit member races and running clubs in person or over Zoom.
An unwritten responsibility I hold dear to my heart is researching what is going on in the running community. My focus has been on DEI issues, so I seek out and engage in BICOP and LGBTQ+ social media, podcasts, and websites. And I do appreciate reading Mid Strike Magazine, as I love the stories of diverse runners that I never had growing up with the traditional running magazines. Keep up the great work!
I attribute my success and, importantly, the success of the RRCA to a variety of people. First, the Board of Directors who support my vision for the RRCA. I am particularly grateful for my Vice President Lisa Rippe whom I bounce ideas off of and share my thoughts. I can count of my wife who has been supportive of me and is really good about reminding me about keeping humble and why I accepted this position.
But the person who definitely makes success happen is CEO Jean Knaack, whom I have had the pleasure to work with for nearly 15 years. A few years ago, Runner’s World named her as one of the 50 most influential people in the sport of running. Jean knows the running industry very well. Moreover, Jean is not only an excellent problem solver but a visionary. I am very appreciative that she supports and shares my values to improve running for everyone. In fact, it was her team of Andy Smith, Erica Gminski, and Mike Webb in the national office that came up with the RRCA’s new tagline “Empowering Everyone to Run.”
MSM: RRCA offers various programs that help local run clubs and individuals. For our readers that may be with their respective clubs what types of programs does the RRCA offer and how can runners that are interested sign up?
George: First, you can find out more about the RRCA and its programs at www.RRCA.org. It is the “Start a Club” or “Start an Event” services that drives most new members to RRCA, and most are seeking the services offered by the organization including the insurance program. “Our Education For” section on the website provides in-depth information for club leaders, event directors and runners. While there are many running club and event members, individuals can also join the organization as well and benefit from the information we provide.
One of the most well-known programs is the RRCA Coaching Certification program. To date, the RRCA has certified over 10,000 coaches. Another is the RRCA’s Race Director Certification program that provides race directors with a baseline of knowledge for hosting safe events.
The RRCA has a goal with the Kids Run the Nation program to help people organize youth running programs in every school and community across the US. The Kids Run the Nation program is gender- and ability-inclusive; designed to meet the physical activity goals outlined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for children in kindergarten through sixth grade, and can be modified for younger and older runners; turnkey – no experience with running or coaching is required to lead a program, and royalty-free.
Each year the RRCA holds its national convention. From March 17-20, 2022, we will return to Orlando, Florida. The RRCA Convention is a great opportunity to learn from club and event leaders, coaches, and runners from around the country. One of my favorite functions at the RRCA Convention is the presentation of the RRCA National Running Awards program. While the awards program honors top runners, the highlight is that it shines a spotlight on volunteers that dedicate a great deal of time to their organizations and the sport.
MSM: Lets change up the pace a bit, as a BICOP runner and also a president to a run organization and the experience that you have as a diverse runner, how have you used your experiences to create change within the run community, more so how have you managed to keep the conversations and dialogue open to those that may not understand the struggles of runners that we are still vying for in the run community.
George: Great question and hopefully, my answer will give folks insights to my motivation for the changes that I am striving for. Outside of running with my fellow high school runners, I have had my share of running in places where I would hear anti-Asian slurs and fear for my safety. In other areas of my life, I “knew my place” and that accompanying feeling I would not be good enough because I was not completely white. Going into majority white places, I would get that feeling of dread and fear of being “otherized.” But now, happily, for the longest time, I am in place where diversity is accepted and celebrated in my running, work, and social communities. I want a world for all runners like the one I currently belong in.
However, I was living in bubble because I was contented in my world and one could say that I was blind to what was going on with runners elsewhere experiencing systematic racism. The reality was that I was not completely blind as I knew of some situations that diverse runners had faced, but I did not contemplate the extent of systematic racism in our sport and society.
As mentioned earlier, the pandemic shut things down just as I was elected president, so my focus was on helping the RRCA weather this storm to keep being financially sustainable along with supporting the staff during these stressful times. A few weeks later, the murder of Amaud Arbery came to light and my stomach turned. I thought, “how could this be.” As RRCA president, I needed to know what was the extend of the problem that Black runners were facing. I sought out to learn about the experiences from BIPOC State Reps and Black Girls Run of the Central Valley. Tony Reed, co-founder and executive director of the National Black Marathoner Association, was gracious to tell his story and the stories of other Black runners. Another huge influence was Alison Désir and her RRCA award winning article “Ahmaud Arbery and Whiteness in the Running World.” I sought out diverse podcasts like The Run Wave. In short, I took the responsibility to self-educate myself.
All this, plus remembering my past negative experiences, opened my eyes that there was systematic racism in our sport and led me to act. Since then, there are many times when I go for a run, I feel gratitude that I can run freely because of where I live while at the same time, I feel shame and anger that there are runners that cannot run freely and not be safe due to how they look.
The easy part was making the decision that the RRCA needed to better champion diverse runners. The hard part was how to go about making the changes. As mentioned earlier, Jean was very supportive and was able to openly express concerns about DEI related to the board development process in years past along with other concerns she had witnessed and experienced over the years. Through collaborative conversations with people and the Diversity Working Group and the Bylaw Review Working Group, a year-round Board Development Committee tasked with helping the RRCA achieve its DEI commitment was formed in the updated bylaws. The Board Development Committee is highly representative of the running community including representation by women, men, people of color, club leaders, certified coaches, and people from various age ranges.
Over the last year, we have had the opportunity to learn how other running clubs are addressing DEI issues in positive ways and we have been able to connect leaders with other clubs to share lessons learned. The RRCA held a panel discussion on DEI at the RRCA Convention and we have hosted zoom presentations that spotlight opportunities engage in dialog about racism in the sport.
Regarding the last part of your question, as a teacher, I use stories to motivate my students to engage in the curriculum. The same technique of using stories to motivate is also important because stories lead to people caring. They can picture themselves in that person’s shoes and understand why we need to make changes. In short, stories help people relate and empathize.
MSM: While you aren’t running or being president you are a teacher. As a parent I’d like to say thank you for the past year and a half. I feel like teachers haven’t gotten the praise deserved getting these kids through the school year remotely. How have you handled this past year as a teacher, what have been some of the challenges you’ve had to work with.
George: I appreciate compliments. To put it mildly, it was a challenge to teach remotely – it just did not seem right but given the circumstances, it was the best I could do. Obviously, learning to teach from the computer was the biggest leap to be made. Trying to recreate curriculum to an online format was an exercise in patience and creativity.
When working with students, the art of teaching is reading the students’ body language and pay attention to their tone which is hard to do on screen. A lot of times was trying to find what the students were interested in and letting them research on their own. Many times I just dropped what I was teaching to address their emotions. I had to find ways for students to express themselves, so I had to explore different art and music making online programs. For my self-care, I upped my running and ice-cream was my comfort food. In fact, 1/3 of my refrigerator was filled with this good cold stuff!
MSM: This goes into my next question as you’re also a teacher for students with mental health issues. As parents we tend to think our kids are good but this past pandemic has been hard for most kids this past year. As you return back to school/work what have been some of the things you’ve found yourself doing to help ease the kids back into the process of having a normal school day?
George: I was lucky to get back in the classroom in November before the COVID situation got worse and things got shut down again, including no more school re-openings. I think that the kids were on brink of being “so done” with online school. Again, I will balance more of their social-emotional needs by stopping things if I sense that students have things on their minds. Another strategy is working with the students to demonstrate their knowledge of a concept in a way that may be more comfortable to them like drawing a poster, creating a rap song, or just giving an oral explanation. So giving students a say and some control over their learning has been important. Another thing is that we have a school garden that students really enjoy. I just stand back and act more of a problem solver when things come up. Finally, I would do such things as give students space and more free time to be creative.
MSM: Fun question I like to ask educators that are also runners, have you ever been challenged by a student to a race? (lol).
George: Yes, but not at a race. Back when I was a teacher at a juvenile camp facility, I did coach a cross country team. At the workouts, I would participate with the students. Some of the students would challenge me by sprinting ahead and see if they could beat me to the finish line. But (I have a big grin right now) I would reel them back in. But over time, the students learned the lesson about pacing. So later in the season, the students would start to improve and beat me. But I was happy with that because then it became a teachable moment of sportsmanship with me demonstrating on how to gratuitously accept defeat and to congratulate one’s opponents.
MSM: What does the future hold for Geroge Rehmet? Also what are some of the things we can look out for from the RRCA?
George: Right now, I am focused on the here and now as President so I haven’t put much thought into this. When my time is done, I would still like to be involved with the RRCA but I would like to be involved more in addressing DEI issues in our sport and of course, I still plan to keep running but I will need to be smarter about my training as I get older in order to stay in the sport for a long time.
With things coming out of the RRCA, I would say that Jean and her staff do not sit on their laurels. They are constantly learning about the needs of the running community and adapting programs to meet those needs. For example, the Coaching Certification Course underwent an overhaul in 2020 as the program quickly adapted and delivered the course via Zoom. A highlight of this pivot was the significant increase in BIPOC coaches taking the course along with coaches from around the World. Not only did the team pivot the course delivery, but they completely redesigned the course slides with a significant focus on ensuring runners of all types, sizes, and races were represented in the course. Moving forward the RRCA will deliver a mix of in-person and zoom course options in the coming years as both have proven to be beneficial to the running community. Again, I think the RRCA will be one of the leaders when it comes to DEI issues. I look forward to the national office working with the Running Industry Diversity Coalition.
MSM: For our readers how can we all stay updated on upcoming events, classes and all information regarding the RRCA?
George: I’m happy to say, just go to www.RRCA.org to sign-up for updates. You can find RRCA on Facebook and Instagram. If you have any questions and comments, I recommend you reach out to the RRCA national office staff. You can learn more about them along with the RRCA board, their roles in the organization, and their emails at https://www.rrca.org/about/staff-board-directory/
MSM: Any last words you’d like to share with our readers?
George: I appreciate the opportunity to share my history and experiences along with providing more insights into what the RRCA does for the running community. I am grateful to be RRCA President and I want to make our sport better for diverse runners. I appreciate the compliments and the honor of the role I am in but I recognize and appreciate that where I am at and where the RRCA is and going forward would not have happened without the efforts and stories of people and organizations like Tony Reed, Alison Désir, Black Girls Run, Latinos Run, Native Women Running, Front Runners, Black Men Run, and fellow RRCA leaders like Lionel Adams and Jackie Britton. And thank you Mid Strike Magazine for what you do.
Finally, for you dear wonderful readers, do keep supporting each other along with sharing your stories and achievements. You can and will inspire people to make positive changes as I am one of those folks. Thank you and keep on running!