As most New Yorkers know, February doesn’t bode well for runners in the area. Freezing temperatures, lack of daylight, and you find the running community using their creativity in finding opportunities to log some mileage. Add a demanding City Year corps year to the equation and you get what Kieran O’Connor, a 23-year-old alumnus of CYNY ’10 and distance runner, calls “taking ‘running errands’ to a whole new meaning.”
“I wasn’t running as much as I would have liked, especially during camps when I got out [from after-school programming] at 6, and had meetings at 7:30 that didn’t end until very late,” Kieran said. Camp City Year, or “camps” as it’s affectionately known, is a completely corps-led initiative that City Year plans after regular service hours so students have something positive to do over their Spring Break vacation. Last year, Kieran was the Operations Director for the South Bronx camp, and to stay in shape during this “dark time in New York,” he exercised his resourcefulness.
“I used to live on the Upper East Side,” Kieran said, “and the [City Year] office is in Chelsea, so I just ran down for the meeting. It’s a 25-minute run one way for me, and I’d do both ways.” This kind of creative planning paid off; the Saturday after camps wrapped up, Kieran placed second overall at the 13.1 Series half marathon in Queens with a time of 1:12:30.
A runner since the 7th grade, Kieran like many younger siblings followed in his older brother and sister’s footsteps. Both of his older siblings ran cross country and track in high school, and his older sister went on to run in college. “After attending so many track meets, I guess I wanted to get caught up in the fun, too,” Kieran said. But their influence didn’t end there.
“I was finishing school at [the University of] Notre Dame and I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do after I graduated,” Kieran said. “I didn’t want to go to grad school just yet, but I knew I loved working with kids.” Eventually Kieran received an e-mail from a City Year recruiter outlining the program and encouraging him to apply. “My older brother and sister both did service after they graduated so I definitely wanted to do service.” He chose to use the year after graduation to do so.
Kieran was placed as a corps member at PS 48, an elementary school in the South Bronx. There he made lasting friendships with his teammates and learned to love the community. “I really was able to form a bond with [the class I supported] and I really loved my children,” he said. “It was just very nice to be able to forge that real, personal bond over the year with the same kids.”
In the summer after his graduation from City Year and with six half marathons under his belt, Kieran decided to give the full marathon distance a try. He knew exactly which one he wanted to do. “Last year I was a spectator at the [ING] New York City marathon for the first time, and seeing just the incredible energy of the crowd really inspired me to want to do it.”
He decided he wanted to run for a charity, and chose one that caught his attention because of the neighborhood it was in and the services it provided: BronxWorks, an organization that is committed to helping individuals and families improve their economic and social being. “I thought it would be a great way to continue giving back to the community I served in last year,” Kieran said.
On Sunday, November 7th, Kieran crossed the finish line in 2:29:30, placing him 40th overall, 1st in his age group, and as the 13th American to complete the race that morning. His self-proclaimed “bold racing attire” (“Yeah, so I was rocking yellow shorts and my Mohawk and not much else at all…”) in combination with his performance earned him an interview on NBC. To top it all off, he crushed his fundraising goal; he set the bar at $2,500 and to date has raised more than $3,100.
Back in October, Kieran was invited back to pass down the Hammer of Service during the City Year New York Opening Day ceremony, a traditional presentation where a literal hammer is passed down to the current corps from an alum along with some words of wisdom. In his short speech, he told the corps that keeping priorities in check would be the key to a successful year.
“I know there will be days when you are not as fired up,” he said, “But the thing to remember, the thing you always need to keep in mind, is that it’s not about you…It’s about the kids. And as long as you remember that, you’re going to do great things this year. Put the kids first. Always. And give your best to them because they deserve it, no matter what else is going on in your life.”
Clearly, words that Kieran has given a whole new meaning to this year.
By Alice Pak, Events & Alumni Project Leader.