Matt Bench grew up in Houston and graduated from St. Thomas High School. He was on the cross country and wrestling teams but did not focus on strength training until he entered college and met some friends who were members of an AcroYoga group. The sport involves two people working together to hold poses where one person is the base and supports the other, who is called a flier. Both individuals must completely trust and rely on each other as they execute the positions. Matt says the exercises require as much mental skill as physical strength. Although Matt had never done anything close to what his friends were doing, he was intrigued and agreed to give it a try. In just a few months of training, he realized he had found his passion. After graduating from college, Matt obtained a job in sales, but a majority of his time away from work was dedicated to improving his workout skills and learning new techniques using only his body weight to build strength. In 2015, Matt finally decided to take a risk and pursue his dream. He left his corporate job and started a fitness and lifestyle coaching business called Off The Bench Fitness. His desire is to convince his clients that it is possible to gain strength without going to a gym. He likes to joke that the only piece of equipment required is your birthday suit! Matt says that the benefits to working out and maintaining a healthy lifestyle go beyond the physical. He has collected many articles that show exercise also improves relationships, self-confidence, and emotional health. Matt prefers to meet his clients at outdoor spaces throughout the City of Houston. This past April he published a list of the best outdoor workout spots in Houston, and Memorial Park was his #1 choice. He says the Park has everything you need for calisthenics and body weight training in one location. Today, Matt loves his job and says he has found a tremendous satisfaction in seeing his clients succeed. Along the way, he has also discovered a few ways to demonstrate how fun hanging out at Memorial Park can be-even if it is from a stop sign!
Pamela grew up in Limerick, Ireland and is the oldest of 6 girls. Her first experience with running occurred after graduating from college when she joined a rowing club. Her coach scheduled a weekly training run to build endurance, but Pamela considered this the worst part of the week! Twenty years later, she and her husband, Rod, have 2 beautiful girls, Madeleine and Darcey. She also works full-time for Exxon and is the President of the Houston Area Parkinson’s (HAPS) organization. She is deeply committed to the organization after watching her father struggle with the disease for more than a decade. He was only 63 when he passed away. In 2011, 3-months after Darcey was born, Pamela found herself on the sidelines of the Houston Marathon cheering for a few friends who were participating in the #runforareason program to raise money for #HAPS. As she stood there witnessing the sea of runners pass by, she was inspired to take up running again. She saw many people who did not fit her stereotype of a “runner,” yet they were still willing to put in the work and complete the race. Pamela felt like she did not have a justifiable excuse for not running and decided to get started. In the beginning, she thought that the best she would ever be able to run was 4-hours for a marathon, but 5-years and 15-marathons later, Pamela was thrilled to run 3:19 last year in Chicago. Her proudest running moment occurred a few years ago, shortly before her father passed away. She was doing a marathon in her hometown and was able to see her father sitting in his wheelchair and cheering for her as she ran by. In all of her racing, Pamela has raised over $25K for Parkinson’s disease. In 2016 Pamela met Doug Storey at The Heights High School track. She expressed her desire to train with a strong group of runners, and after a few more conversations, they decided to resurrect the#HoustonHarriers Running Club. Doug is the coach and Pamela is the secretary. She says that her life today is inspired by the legacy of her father. She wants to #payitforward and use her talents to help others, just as her dad did for her.
Roberto grew up in Spain and participated in many different sports as a child. Although he did not start running long distances until he finished his university studies, he says conditioning through running was always a latent part of his athletic endeavors. Today, after 10-years of training, he is one of the fastest men in Houston. Roberto has a few maxims he lives by. One is, “Fill your life with experiences, not things.” He does not enjoy working out on a quarter-mile track, but he does love to run in the mountains. He has traveled throughout the world and says he has found beautiful places to train in almost every city he has visited. In 2013, Roberto received an offer to come to Houston and work as a bilingual teacher. The first thing he did was look for a place to run, and he found many suggestions for Memorial Park. Over the last 4 years, he has spent many evenings after work speeding around the trail at the Park. Roberto describes himself as a lone runner who is introverted and shy. However, he has met a few of the other local elites and has enjoyed building relationships with them. Besides his ability to run long distances at a pace that most people can only dream about, he is also a recognizable figure at the Park because of his long beard. Roberto says that in United States, many people assume he is a Christian or Muslim because of the beard. Instead, he is a militant atheist, which means he openly states his atheistic views, versus keeping his beliefs private. He says that he likes having the beard, and in the past he kept it trimmed, but in the last 2-years he has let it grow out. He admits that the fact he has allowed it to get so long may be due to laziness! Many of his friends and family members have suggested he shave it. However, that only makes him want to grow it even longer. This leads to another maxim in his life: “Be the person you want to be, not what others want to see.”
Carlos was born in Venezuela and grew up in Ecuador. As a child he remembers his father waking up at 5:30 to go run. Although he did not understand why his dad would want to wake up at such an early time, he adored his father who always encouraged him to #BETHEBEST in everything he did. Despite his father’s positive example, Carlos had terrible eating habits during his childhood. On his 15th birthday, he weighed 250 pounds, and his doctor insisted he needed to make a change. Carlos met with a nutritionist & coach who showed him how to choose healthier food & eat several small meals each day. Sixteen years later, Carlos still keeps in contact with that same nutritionist. Carlos says she knows his body and nutritional needs better than he does. In addition to a change in diet, he also started running and going to the gym. Over time, Carlos has progressed from only being able to jog 10-minutes on a treadmill to completing several triathlons and half-marathons. Today he is thankful for his patient wife, Daniella, who supports him in his athletic endeavors. He came to Memorial Park for the first time in 2010 when he and his parents were visiting his brother who was a student at the University of Houston. Carlos says he immediately fell in love with the Park. There is an atmosphere and energy that motivate him to work harder. Also, he appreciates seeing the diverse mix of ages, abilities, and backgrounds that are on the trail every day. Besides his life in Ecuador, Carlos has traveled and worked throughout Europe, Central America, & South America. Regardless of where he is in the world, he makes sure to run in each new city. However, of all of the places he has been, Carlos says Memorial Park is his favorite. He was thrilled to recently find a job in Houston because he not only loves the Park, but also the City and its diverse people. He hopes his story of realizing a new life inspires others to make the same change and look for happiness anywhere in the world.
Molly grew up in the Houston area & began running after she graduated from college. She quickly realized that if she wanted to feel good during her 1-hour workout she also had to be disciplined about what she ate & drank & how much she slept during the remaining 23-hours each day. She says the decision to make that change was an easy one because running provides a sense of joy & accomplishment that she was excited to realize. In 2015 Molly found herself stuck in a job that was physically and emotionally draining. She says that despite the fatigue she felt from her career, she still made a point to wake up early & run every morning, which was the highlight of her day. Although she was disappointed in her day job, she always arrived at her desk with a sense of pride because she had already logged several miles before most of her co-workers were even awake. This past summer, Molly was thrilled to obtain a new job working for @girlsontherun and @gotrgreaterhouston, an organization that strives to unleash confidence in young girls while also establishing a lifetime appreciation of health and fitness. Molly says that even though she is twice the age of most of the girls they mentor, she has also realized that same excitement for life through running. Even though many people prefer to exercise in groups, Molly says she finds running with only one other person to be more refreshing. In today’s fast-paced society when people are glued to their phones & computers, running shoulder-to-shoulder with someone provides a unique opportunity to have someone’s undivided attention & really get to know the other person. Today, she is thankful for the positive impact running has had on her life & relishes the chance to share that joy with the next generation of young ladies.
Tracy grew up in #houston and has always had an affinity for #bedazzled accessories, even when working out. In high school she wanted to run the hurdles, but her coach insisted she was too short. Instead, she settled for running cross country. In 2008, @divatalways joined a gym near her office in#downtownhouston. She soon met several other ladies who called themselves the Lunch Time Hustlers because they have to hustle to get their workouts completed within an hour. This lively group of women encouraged Tracy to not only exercise with them in the gym, but also to occasionally join them on runs around #BuffaloBayou. Tracy finally gave in, & the next thing she knew she was running 4 or 5 miles during her lunch break! In the beginning, she was much slower than the other ladies, but Tracy says she is very competitive. She pushed herself to get faster & was eventually able to keep up with them. The Hustlers started encouraging Tracy to sign up for the 2009 #aramcohalfmarathon, so she began driving to Memorial Park on the weekends to complete her long runs. Although she lives in Baytown, she says she is a creature of habit. She would rather make the drive & run in a familiar setting. Tracy's mom was always her biggest fan. A week before her first marathon, her mom sent her flowers with a note that said, "You're already a winner because you have put in the work to get to the starting line." In 2011 her mom was not feeling well & asked Tracy to take her to the doctor. They were told her mom had Stage 4 colon cancer, & she passed away 6-weeks later. Today, as Tracy runs around the Bayou, the smell of bread baking at the Sunbeam Bakery on #washingtonave reminds her of her mom, who was an expert baker. Tracy wants to challenge others to find their joy in life, just like she did 8-yrs ago. Although running is a good way to work out, Tracy's love for the sport has more to do with the friendships she has made, the pride she has in her accomplishments, & the freedom she feels while exercising. She understands that running is not for everyone, but feels that God has a good plan for each person & that he can work to discover it, just as Tracy did in 2009.
Ernesto has always been a man of determination and focus. He met his wife in 1984 when she was traveling from Mexico to visit her family in Houston. After knowing her for 3-weeks, Ernesto proposed, and they were married the following week. Thirty-three years later their marriage is still strong, although he says they lived in a house divided every time the Mexican soccer team plays the USA. Ernesto grew up in a family of jewelers. As a teenager, he was taught how to design jewelry and use precise tools to create beautiful works of art. He says that when he is performing his job, he shuts the door and focuses only on the item in his hands. He does not think about anything else. The jewels are worth thousands of dollars, and he does not want to make a mistake. Today, at the age of 60, he still loves his job and takes pride in his work. On April 30, 2016, Ernesto was at work when he received a devastating call. His middle child – a son who was 29-years old – was shot and killed while riding his bike at a park in California. Fifteen-months later, police have yet to determine a motive or who is responsible for the shooting. As he struggled to process his grief, he continued to focus on working hard for his customers and employer at @tenenbaumjewelers . Since rush hour traffic is so awful near his work, he decided to start running Memorial Park in the evenings. The Park provides a place to get a workout in and makes the drive home less congested. Since Ernesto is so focused during his time at work, he says that being at the Park also gave his mind a chance to be free and think about his life. A couple friends suggested he visit a counselor or psychiatrist to discuss his heartache. However, he says that his time on the trail has brought the healing he needed. This past year, Ernesto completed four races and dedicated each effort to the memory of his son. Although Ernesto says he still misses his son terribly, Memorial Park has helped to usher in a peace that passes understanding.
Ryan grew up in Spring & was recruited to play football. After his 2nd year in college, tragedy struck. His younger brother passed away in a heartbreaking accident & Ryan wondered if he could go on w/ life as usual. He considered not returning to school but his family encouraged him not to quit. He eventually graduated & returned to Houston to pursue a career. Ryan says he started running in 2013-not because of a desire to be healthy-but out of vanity. He had a vacation to #LasVegas planned & was frustrated w/ how much weight he had gained since graduating from college. Ryan says that when he was playing football he ate everything in sight. Unfortunately when his football days ended his eating did not change. The thought of sitting at the Vegas pool w/o a 6-pack was enough to cause Ryan to start running. He says it took about 6-months, but his body slowly began to change & he took pride in his ability to run farther and faster. Today Ryan is working to qualify for the Boston Marathon. He says that the idea of even doing a marathon-much less running fast enough to qualify for Boston-is something that would have seemed ridiculous a few years ago. His friends still ask him what in the world he thinks about while running for 3 ½ hours. Looking back on those days of playing football, Ryan says one thing he learned was how to work together as a team to achieve a common goal. He loved the camaraderie of the sport & joy of winning together. He feels that same spirit of solidarity w/in the running community. Although each person runs his own race the support and friendships he has found in the last 4-years have encouraged him to pursue goals he previously thought were impossible. Ryan says that although he still grieves the loss of his brother the tragedy caused him to view his relationships w/ other people in a different light. He knows how difficult life was a few years ago. He wants to be a blessing to everyone he meets in case they are going through something similar to what he experienced. Today, regardless of whether he is running at Memorial Park or lying next to a pool in Vegas, Ryan tries to give others the benefit of the doubt & always treats them w/ respect.