Inspiring Youth in the Kids of STEEL Pen Pal Program and Beyond!

from Rob Molke

From the first time I stepped foot on the soccer field when I was very young, I knew that I had found a sport that I loved. When the whistle blew and the ball went to a corner of the field, there was little doubt that I would be the first person to get to the ball; however, I wasn’t going to be the next Ronaldo. I’ve gotten to the ball faster than everyone else, now what? Frozen in time with stage fright and *perhaps* a slight lack of coordination as the other kids began to swarm around me, it dawned on me: “Hey, maybe getting from point A to point B the quickest is what I’m good at.”

Growing up as a kid, I had a very different childhood than most. I ran by choice as my main sport. I tried basketball, soccer, baseball (well, tee ball), swimming, and other sports, but there was something about running that I was really passionate about. It gave me an abundance of life skills that enabled me to achieve success on the track, in the classroom, and in all other aspects of my life. Youth running was not as well organized as club soccer or playing basketball on a travel team, but it was something that I was determined to find a way to become better at.

I started out with CYO Track and Field at St. Joseph’s Elementary School in Oradell and was immediately hooked. I participated in any event that was offered: the 50 meter dash, the 800 meter run, even the long jump and softball throw (that one I left pretty quickly…). Our head track coach at the time, Coach Janine (who I still credit as my first coach!) convinced me to try the USATF Junior Olympic Series. In my first association meet, I competed in the 7 and 8 year old 400 meter dash and encountered my first experience with nerves. The cure? Coach Janine convinced me to toe the start line by promising a brand new, shiny deck of Pokemon cards. I ran the race, and from that moment on, not every finish was fulfilled with a holygram Gyarados, but my passion and love for the sport grew. I went on to train and race at USATF and AAU events around the country with local New Jersey track clubs Transy East and the Green Streakers before competing in cross country and track and field at Don Bosco Prep High School and Syracuse University.

Running as part of the Green Streakers Track Club in 8th Grade. Fun fact: I was roommates with the guy right  behind me, Andrew Nelson, for a few years in college.

Running as part of the Green Streakers Track Club in 8th Grade. Fun fact: I was roommates with the guy right behind me, Andrew Nelson, for a few years in college.


Now, I look back on those days as a post-collegiate professional distance runner and I am so grateful for the opportunities that I had to run growing up and for the skills that running taught me. As part of my responsibility as a professional in the sport, I want to share my experiences and give kids the same opportunities in the sport that I had and more, which is why I am so happy to be a part of this year’s Kids of STEEL Pen Pal Program, coordinated by P3R Events, as I prepare for the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Half Marathon on May 1.

During the months of March and April, I have sent and will continue to send letters to the kids in the Kids of STEEL program at Waynesburg Elementary School outside of Pittsburgh. I am very excited for this opportunity, because I will have the chance to share my training leading up to the race and help inspire the future of our sport. Through my past experiences, I also hope to show the kids all of the valuable life skills that they can take from running, such as setting goals, how to stay positive and motivated, how to be disciplined and work hard, and leading a healthy and active lifestyle. I wouldn’t be in the position I am right now if running hadn’t taught me these important skills, and being involved with kids at the earliest stages of the sport is going to be a really fun way for me to give back. All of these kids may not go on to run in the future, but what they learn now through the Kids of STEEL program can set themselves up for success in their future endeavors.

Another aspect of the program that I am looking forward to is getting to meet all of the kids at a picnic outside of Pittsburgh the Friday before the race. I’ll also get to cheer them on as they take part in the Toyota Kids Marathon the day before the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon. This part of the program I look forward to because I hope to be inspired by and learn something from the kids. Through my previous job at New York Road Runners, working with Team for Kids and the NYRR Youth Running Series was always a blast, and seeing kids at the different NYRR events racing on the streets and tracks of New York City was always encouraging and motivating. I know that the future of our sport is bright, but it will take a huge effort from the running community to make this a reality.

As for my own training, things have going very well and uninterrupted! I hit 96 miles last week with a solid 20 mile long run on the LRT outside of Minneapolis on Easter Sunday. My mileage has gradually increased a few miles each week, and the quality of my workouts has gotten better with each workout. I am very excited for the half marathon with just over a month until the event, and I am confident that I will have a successful race! This will be my first half marathon since the 2015 Houston Half last January, and I am looking forward to finally getting back to racing and being competitive after a long layoff due to injuries.

20 Miler on Easter Sunday!

20 Miler on Easter Sunday!


Where the sport will continue to take me, I am still not sure of; however, I am enjoying the ride and hope to share some insight and inspiration with kids along the way. I highly recommend getting involved with your running community and any kids programs that they offer, because you never know who you can inspire to do something great. You don’t have to be an Olympic medalist to be an inspiration for kids in the sport. Setting a good example as a role model and teaching kids how they can pursue their dreams can go a long way. It’s absolutely worth it, whether you help to plant inspiration in the lives of 100 kids or just one.

As always, thank you to my strong support system of family, friends, Team USA Minnesota, and Brooks Running for giving me the opportunity to pursue my dreams, and thank you to P3R Events for the chance to race on May 1. Can’t wait! TCB and Run Happy.


Check out Rob’s Brooks store; any purchase supports his journey!
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