Is it a Rocky Mountain high, or could it be a runner's high, that makes people living in the the City of Boulder the happiest people in America? Boulder has been tagged by Forbes Magazine as the smartest city in the U.S., and by a 2010 Gallup poll as the healthiest and happiest. Could it also be that the high level of aerobic activity in town, and the resulting "feel good" boost of both serotonin and endorphins in the brain, is what makes them happy?
Take Mike Sandrock, for example. Sandrock is one of Boulder's high-energy, perpetually happy runners. Together with Olympic runner Frank Shorter, Mike Sandrock is often given credit for turning Boulder into a runner's paradise. A recent inductee into the Colorado Runner's Hall of Fame, Sandrock is a sports journalist who writes about the running trails of Boulder and runs with the legends of that sport around the world.
Sandrock also spends time volunteering with One World Running, the nonprofit that he co-founded 25 years ago. Its mission: to send running shoes to children living in poverty, around the world.
One World Running (OWR) was founded after Sandrock returned from a coaching and racing trip to Cameroon, West Africa, in 1986. Running in races against some of that country's best athletes, he was startled to discover that Cameroon runners were passing him, running barefoot! Here he was, part of an elite team of U.S. runners, outfitted in the latest running gear, and yet, the barefoot runners of Cameroon still took the lead.
Returning to Boulder, Sandrock and a group of elite runners including Lorraine Moller, Steve Jones and Arturo Barrios set up One World Running and began shipping shoes to West Africa. What Sandrock realized was this: if Cameroon runners could run that fast barefoot, African runners could also run away from poverty... in running shoes.
Now, 25 years later, and still 100% volunteer, OWR sends donated used and new shoes, T-shirts, and shorts to needy athletes and children around the world. Each $195 raised by the nonprofit is sufficient to send 50 pairs of shoes to sub-Saharan Africa (or double that amount of shoes to Haiti and Central America). Recent additions include soccer cleats and baseball equipment.
Today, runners from countries like Kenya and Ethiopia, from East Africa's Rift Valley, routinely take the lead in marathons throughout the world. "When they win big races," says Sandrock, "they become like Donald Trump, in terms of wealth... and like Bill Gates in terms of attitude. The big win is not about them. It's not about ego. Instead, most of their money returns to Africa, where it is invested in their local community, to benefit everyone."
Which brings us back to Boulder. "Aerobics," notes Sandrock, "boosts more than a person's self-confidence. Along with self-confidence comes a desire to do more, be more, and learn more."
Could this be the key to what makes Boulder residents happy?
On any given day in Boulder, come sun or rain, hundreds of people can be found running, bicycling, or walking the streets, creek side paths, and mountain trails near town. In fact, this Memorial Day weekend, more than 40,000 people will run together down the streets of Boulder in the town's favorite race.
In another tribute to health and happiness, Runner's World magazine recently tagged the Bolder Boulder as America's All-Time Best 10K.
What makes people happy? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this in the comment section below.
Alexia Parks is an author and inspirational speaker. Her latest book is Dr. Joel's BE SUPER FIT co-authored with Joel Rauch M.D. Dr. Joel is also known as Dr. Longevity.
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