Running has always been a force for good in CARA member Darren DeMatoff’s life.
When he was in the 7th grade, it was a confidence builder. As an adult it changed his life.
In fact, it was the process of training for and running his first marathon in 1995 that made him realize it was time to quit his job and branch out on his own.
Now, he and his husband own a design manufacturing company that creates décor, such as vases and 3D artwork, for hotels and retail stores like Wayfair and Crate and Barrel.
“There’s a sense of freedom I get from running. It’s a reminder that I can overcome anything. It’s my time.”
As DeMatoff says, it’s been an evolution, but he went from being a graphic designer to owning his own company, and running marathons played a big role.
“I truly feel like running a marathon is transformative,” he said. “No matter how many times I do it, it’s like doing the impossible. It gives you so much power in life when you see yourself moving beyond what you think you can do. It bleeds over into lots of other areas of your life. You give yourself permission to take risks you might not have done otherwise.”
He added that running also keeps him present and engaged in his life.
“My run sets the tone for my day,” he said. “There’s a sense of freedom I get from running. It’s a reminder that I can overcome anything. It’s my time.”
As a group leader and site coordinator for CARA, DeMatoff said he sees this transformation occur year after year after year, as the runners he works with get married or receive promotions at work, putting themselves out there in ways they might not have before.
DeMatoff found CARA after running the Shamrock Shuffle and making an on-the-spot decision to run the marathon.
“I got sucked into the community immediately,” he said.
Now, his closest friends are the ones he’s made through running, and he jokes that there’s no request too crazy that he wouldn’t do for them.
“I look at my friends and my support system, and so much of that has come from running and CARA,” he said. “It’s pretty incredible.”
After taking a run break, it took him 4 years to get back to his previous PR, but when he hit it in 2012, it was with his training group and family cheering him on. A friend he ran his first marathon with even came back to watch.
“The whole moment was incredible,” DeMatoff said. “Everything just clicked that day.”
In fact, he ended up smashing his previous PR by 10 minutes, so he set his sights on qualifying for and running Boston. Which he also did.
“There’s no right or wrong way to run. Just get out of the door and start.”
Even though he’s taken running breaks throughout the past 25 years, he always comes back to CARA, and in addition to being a group leader and the site coordinator for the Montrose Sunday group, he now sits on the CARA Board of Directors.
“I love sharing my love running,” he said, and he’s constantly recruiting new runners and spreading the word about CARA.
“Those of us in Chicago, we’re pretty lucky to have CARA,” DeMatoff said. “People should encourage their friends to join us for a run one weekend. We’re so lucky to have this community that’s been around for more than 40 years.”
While he acknowledges that new runners might be too intimidated to take advantage of that offer, he says they shouldn’t be.
In addition to marathon and half marathon training programs, CARA promotes running in local communities through free 1- to 3-mile ’Go Runs in neighborhood parks and Run Crews in underserved neighborhoods.
“There’s no right or wrong way to run,” he said. “Just get out of the door and start.”