Former Valley champion gives back to school
Courtesy of Ernest Velarde Madera South, Desmond and Martin Luther King cross country runners wait in line to receive a package of attire from former Madera South cross country champion Alisha Brown, who donated the apparel to the athletes.
When former Madera South Stallions cross country Valley Champion Alisha Brown returned home, one of the things she wanted to do was give back to the community that gave her so much.
Brown won back-to-back Div. III Central Section cross country championships for the Stallions before graduating in 2010. She had a successful career at UC Riverside and returned to Madera. Now, she is in her fifth year of teaching U.S. History at Madera High School while also training for a shot at the Olympic Trial next year in the 800 meters.
“I am postpartum one year,” she said. “My fitness isn’t glamorous right now. I’m working towards it. I did have COVID-19 and that pushed my training back. With the postponement of the Olympics, it gives me more time to get back. It kind of worked in my favor.”
However, one of the things Brown is proud of is a campaign she created called RunMadera, which is to help cross country athletes with the correct attire.
“The concept is something I worked with Coach Sky Fierro with in 2017,” she said. “He reached out to me and told me he had a few runners that loved being out here, but didn’t have the money to get proper running attire, specifically undergarments. He asked if I would be able to assist in any other way since I was being sponsored. I said absolutely. I don’t know how, but give me some time and I will figure things out. That’s what sparked this whole thing. Back then, I was sponsored by Oiselle (pronounced wazelle). Luckily for me, they already had a sports bra program in place where you can enter a school district in need and write a letter to the company for a donation. Since I was running for the company, I didn’t have to go through that. I reached out to the higher-ups in the company and told them about our situation. They sent sports bras for the entire MLK team.”
After a year or two of hiatus, Brown was sparked to provide by a social media post from a former athlete who looked up to Brown — Jonnie Montano.
“I know there’s a need in the community,” Brown said. “There’s so much I want to do. I know I need resources and things like that. I signed to a running company, Rabbit. They are low-key and are resourceful. I’m working with them. I started thinking about it again. What pushed me to do was an old runner. She brought back up from when I did it in 2017. She said she looks up to me and what I do, she aspires to be. My influence on her helped her complete her bachelor’s. Seeing the influence I had, it sparked me back up. With everything going on, I haven’t been so chipper. It’s been so difficult. I’ve been overwhelmed with work. To read those words told me I can’t be down and out. I have a purpose in this community and I need to fill it. When I saw that, I contacted the coaches and I called it RunMadera.”
Now that Brown has gotten the program back up, she wants to help other runners who were in the same position she was when she was starting out.
“I want to provide some kind of running garment to a running program in this district, starting at the middle school level where they start getting serious,” she said. “For me, I remember being super self-conscious in the middle school level. My mom wouldn’t buy me a sports bra. She said I didn’t need it. I saw all these girls with sports bras on and wanted one too. I remember the humiliation. I remember being afraid to change in the locker room. I remember covering my chest so they didn’t notice I didn’t have a sports bra on. Experiencing not having a sports bra in the seventh grade, that’s why it was so important for me to start at the seventh grade level to see what I could do.”
This year, she reached into her own pocket to purchase sports bras for cross country runners from Desmond and Martin Luther King middle schools and Madera South High School.
“If these young women choose to run, they shouldn’t be held back by clothing,” Brown said. “They shouldn’t be held back because they feel unforgettable in their own skin because they don’t have the right support. That will definitely deter someone from playing a sport. You are vulnerable in your uniform. If you don’t feel comfortable in that, you’re not going to do it. That’s the base behind it. This year, I was able to donate running shorts to the guys team, as well. It felt good to be able to give back to the guys. Every year, this might look different. I want to aspire to provide sports bras. I ordered some Champion sports bras with my own money. It cost a pretty penny and I know the impact it will make. That was greater than the dollars I had to pay for.”
Brown credits Montano for the motivation to get this program up and running and to continue it down the road.
“Jonnie brought it back out of me,” Brown said. “I need to do something for these kids, especially during these times. This is a perfect time to give. We’re all struggling. If I could add a little goodness and smile. The smiles behind those masks warmed my heart.”
Brown distributed the garments and the shorts to the runners a couple of weeks ago and she couldn’t have been happier.
“I had to keep my excitement in tact,” she said. “I was just happy to be around kids in person. I don’t get to see my students. Being able to see the smiles was great. They all said thank you and some said thank you five times. It was all they could say, but it was enough. It was a breath of fresh air I needed.”
In addition to receiving the clothing, Brown had each of the athletes in a Zoom meeting where she introduced herself and also had each one participate in a visualization exercise for their goals.
“We went though relaxation tools and actually visualizing what they wanted to accomplish,” she said. “I had them write down their goals on a card. One girl had a five-minute goal time on her card. When she showed it to me, I saw in her eyes she was not afraid of that goal. When I broke five-minutes in high school and that was my goal, I hit 4:54. I told her she was the one that was going to break my record. That’s what it’s about, that encouragement from one generation to the next.”
Brown also explained to the runners that she knows where they came from because she was there, too. She said, with hard work and determination, you can accomplish your dreams.
“I told them on Zoom that I am you, you are me and we are we,” she said. “I didn’t come with a silver spoon in my mouth. I worked hard for everything I had. I grew up in a single-parent home. If I could do it, they can do it. I told them my life hasn’t been all good. I’ve been through a lot of things I’ve had to work through. I just had to get up and keep going. I asked one of the kids what they were feeling when they thought about their goal. He said it was going to be hard to reach his goal. I told him I never said it was going to be easy. We do the visualization so you can see what it feels like in your brain before you actually do it. It’s not going to be easy to reach your goal. It hurts whether you PR or don’t. It reflects into real-life situations. Life is hard no matter what you do. It’s me trying to be transparent with them and letting them see me for who I am. I’m a regular person who grew up in Madera and worked really hard to be where I’m at.”
Eventually, Brown would like to have donations to help her out with the cause, but hasn’t set anything up yet. If anyone is interested, they can contact her through social media (Facebook- @alishabrown, Instagram- @leeleebrowns).
“I haven’t done anything like this before because I haven’t done anything like this before,” she said. “I need to set up a VenMo account.”
She would like to see other Madera or Madera South cross country alumni, male or female, help with this endeavor.
“I think it’s imperative those runners see themselves in us (other high school cross country alumni),” she said. “It’s super imperative that us alumni give back and reach out to the community that molded us to who we are. If it wasn’t the coaches I had, the coaches that would take me after practice to buy me new shoes, those are the kind of people that make kind individuals and give back. If someone like that has given to you, you owe it to your community and yourself to help someone else who was like you.”
Eventually, she would like to see an event, maybe a 5K run to benefit RunMadera, where there is a race with music and a barbecue and where the athletes can pick up their gear.
“It would even be great to have alumni to do it with me,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be just Madera South. That’s only where I came from. I started at Madera. Life goes at it goes. I would like to donate to all the middle schools and all the high schools. How cool would that be to have a running event with some music and food. We have kids coming to pick up gear and hang out. I’m definitely open to suggestions on how to make this a bigger deal. I want to make this a big deal because of what I see in the kids.”
In the end, Brown was just happy to see the looks on the athletes’ faces when they got their attire.
“They are so grateful.” she said. “Those kind of hearts are the ones you want to give to. I’m super happy to have been a part of it.”