Fast Feet is a nonprofit founded in New York City in 2018 by Suzie Clinchy, an educator, coach, and runner. The organization works with more than 800 children with developmental differences and physical disabilities and their families in cities across the country to provide them with adaptive running programs, nutrition education workshops, and social skills workshops for neurodiverse children and transitioning adults.
Very few organizations provide this kind of athletic programming for individuals with disabilities, and those that do are often extremely limited and cost-prohibitive for families. Fast Feet has made it their mission to foster inclusive and accessible running programs for all athletes and offer them opportunities to join teams, participate in races, make friends, and improve their fitness.
Bandit is partnering with Fast Feet and donating a percentage of our sales to help them with their mission of serving children of all abilities, while promoting equality and inclusion in athletics, fitness, and wellness. We spoke with Clinchy to learn more about Fast Feet and how we all can get more involved.
Suzie, tell us a little bit about your background.
I'm the founder and executive director of Fast Feet NYC. I started running in high school and had some success right off the bat. My high school relay team was All-American in the 4 x 800 meters and I did well enough to secure a spot on the track team at Wake Forest University.
I joined the New York City Teaching Fellows Program back in 2014, and I taught public school mathematics for a few years. Samantha [Laserson, Fast Feet’s director of development] and I met and decided to start an after school running club. We both really connected over our love of running and wanting to engage our students in after-school sports.
Fast-forward a few years later, I really saw a gap and huge disparity in athletic offerings for children who might have a developmental disability or a physical disability. I co-taught a number of special education math classes and saw first-hand the severe lack of recreational offerings for children with disabilities in New York City. So working with kids with disabilities and my own running background really gave me the idea to start Fast Feet.
Was there a moment where you were like, “Oh wow, we can really start to help individuals through running?”
I had a dear friend of mine who was teaching at a school for kids with autism and he suggested that I start an after-school running club for their students because they hadn’t had an athletic program before. So, we did, we started a small program with about 20 students with autism and I just totally fell in love with working with these kids.
I’ll never forget some of the moments we had: We had a boy literally run for the first time ever in his life during one of our practices. We slowly worked with him to jump with two feet, and then progressed to skipping, and then learning to put that together and be able to run a lap. We took the students to a track meet and we were the only group there that had students with disabilities, but our kids jumped in and we did a 400-meter race and that was a really eye-opening moment for me.
We had parents there videotaping and crying. They said, “I never really thought my kid could do sports.” We took them to Icahn Stadium and they got to see their child run on a track and get a medal and standing ovation.
I’m getting chills—that’s really awesome. I’m curious how you approach community because, you know, running is hard. There’s always a reason to stop, but community pushes you forward.
I think community is one of the most important aspects of our programming. We’re lucky enough that we partner with public schools, private schools, charter schools, hospitals, and communities in all of our boroughs here in New York City. So that creates interconnectivity between the school system, the health care system, and our communities. Every player is there to support our children, right?
We’ve expanded to Boston, Detroit, and Los Angeles this year, and that’s pretty amazing. When I started this organization, I was really pleasantly surprised by how willing and excited people were to help and support. You see parents and caregivers create friendships, and a community of people just sitting on the bleachers watching their kids together. And it’s a total no judgement zone. We see behavioral issues all the time and it’s something that all parents are like, “Hey, I’ve been there. I was there yesterday. I know what you’re going through.”
And for our athletes, making friends through sports is something that’s a really big deal. Being able to make one or two new friends at Fast Feet is a huge social skills moment. Making friends with kids who might have autism or Down syndrome or be in a wheelchair or having a different experience than you — these are really pivotal social moments. And that’s one of the reasons we want to promote inclusivity in our programs.
And then there are our coaches. The come to Fast Feet and give a hundred percent and are just amazing. And then our volunteers — they’re nine-to-five and they’re commuting all the way to Fast Feet and they’re partnering with a child and providing them with all that support for a full hour. We’re doing drills, agility exercises, and our volunteers are there to provide positive support, encouragement, and maybe a little push and motivation.
Is there anything you would say you’re really excited about for Fast Feet as we lead up to the marathon?
We have six charity runners who are running the New York City Marathon and raising money for Fast Feet and they’ve been incredible at hitting their fundraising goals. We also have a number of our coaches running the marathon.
It’s always really exciting to tell the kids what their coaches are doing. We encourage them to go out on the marathon course and cheer on all these runners and watch them complete this feat — the wheelchair runners, all the amazing Achilles runners, and the 50,000 people who are doing this through the New York City streets. So, we try to use it as a motivational thing. We’re not putting any limits on our kids. Maybe this is something down the line they can pursue.
If people read this and want to help, how can they get involved?
Volunteers are a vital part of our organization. Our community programs take place in Westchester, the Bronx, East Harlem, Bay Ridge, and Williamsburg. We hope to expand to Staten Island and Queens in 2023. Having volunteers allows us to improve our programs and ensure that every child is supported. So volunteer in-person—its flexible. Maybe it’s once a month, once a quarter.
We also have a fundraising committee helping to plan events, and there’s opportunities there. And obviously we welcome all donations. An easy way to get involved is donating and subscribing to our newsletter. The last thing is spreading awareness of our organization, following us on Instagram, and just promoting inclusion in running, health, and wellness.
Yeah, the like, comment, subscribe is always easy and a bare minimum ask. And there are deeper ways to get involved, so it’s super exciting. One last thing, I see what looks like a surfboard and snowboard behind you. Can you talk a little bit about some of your passions outside of running?
I love to travel in terms of sports. I grew up playing softball and field hockey and they were big passions of mine before I went fully to the dark side of running. I love to swim, I really love to hike, I love the beach. Hawaii is my favorite place to hike!
Thanks to Suzie for all the work she does. If you'd like to support Fast Feet, consider purchasing the NYC Impact Kit. More details by clicking below.