Ryan Betz speaks with poise and finds ambition well beyond his years. But, at just 17 years of age, his most enduring quality may be his desire to help people.
Betz is the first to admit his life is different from most teenagers. He lacks much of the free time to spend with friends and the opportunity to pursue other activities because of a commitment he made two and a half years ago to himself and to helping others. And by the end of his senior year, he will have accomplished what he set out to and changed one person’s life forever.
It all started during a lunch conversation he was having with his mother, Holly Betz, just after Ryan had finished the eighth grade. Ryan, now a junior at Park Tudor High School in Indianapolis, Ind., wanted to try something unique in an effort to make a difference in the world. The conversation evolved into combining two of his true passions – running and helping people – and they eventually determined that Ryan would race a half-marathon in all 50 states by the time he graduates from high school to raise money for charity.
Many may have laughed at the prospect of someone so young attempting something so intense, but with 33 states down and a year and a half to complete the final 17, Betz is well on his way to accomplishing something that once seemed impossible.
“People ask me if I really do like running,” Ryan Betz said. “I love running and ever since my sophomore year I have dedicated myself very seriously to it. You really can’t be a normal teenager doing this.”
He doesn’t need to look far to find the motivation he needs each day to continue to log miles and pursue races. That motivation is simple and will one day benefit a person he has never met. His goal is to raise $100,000 throughout his efforts and establish an endowment that will send one inner-city child to Park Tudor. With much of the donations coming from family and friends, Betz has currently raised $35,000 with his efforts.
“A lot of people immediately jump to the conclusion that I do this for my college resume,” he said. “But to me it is so fulfilling that I could change a human beings life. I don’t think there is anything more fulfilling than that. It keeps you going.”
“When Ryan and I first discussed this idea, I had no doubt that he could accomplish this goal,” Holly said. “He never complains when I have to get him up; sometimes even before dawn and in the rain or cold to go run a race. I remember the Disney (Half Marathon) when he had to be on the monorail by 4:15 AM to get to the start. When he puts his mind to something, he goes full force.”
And Betz’s efforts are in addition to the training and competitions he does regularly for the Park Tudor High School cross country and track and field teams. He has little choice but for his life to revolve around running. He praises his head coach Ryan Ritz, who organizes workouts for him throughout the year.
In addition to the training, his time is also consumed with travel planning, maintaining a healthy diet and, especially, fundraising to meet his goals. All efforts to raise money remain within the Betz family and include everything from phone calls to an aggressive letter writing campaign.
“He has learned so much, from setting up a website, to what it takes to be a 501(c)(3), to the difficulties of fundraising, to writing letters to keep donors informed, to the time invested for travel, to the costs associated with the project, to the hard work it takes to accomplish such a goal,” Holly said.
With his travel being done with his entire family, Betz says there are three different ways they will venture to each race – take around a week-long vacation to the race’s destination, make a quick in-and-out trip over a weekend or travel by car to hit multiple races in one journey. The longest trip was a journey through the Midwest that included races in Colorado and South Dakota where he raced six times inside a seven-week period.
In addition to the travel, it has turned into a true family effort. His younger sister, Gretchen, operates a lemonade stand and donates all that she earns to Ryan’s efforts and his brother, Haydon, will donate $10 for each race that he runs.
Whether it is his intention or not, Betz is building a resume for his future. His goals are to continue to help people and have a chance to run at the NCAA Division I level.
Betz will cross Maryland off his list next when he runs the TCS Annapolis Half Marathon on Saturday. He maintains a website of the races he has run, donations that he has received and the proper method to help with this cause at www.ryanrunning.org