Catching Up to a Man on the Run

    Aug. 3, 2010

    By Megan Christopher

    When injuries prevented Greg Woodburn from continuing to run track during high school, he never lost his passion for the sport.

    Greg Woodburn

    Instead he directed that energy toward founding a nonprofit organization called Give Running, which has, to date, collected and refurbished more than 6,000 pairs of used athletic shoes and distributed them to underprivileged children, many of whom have never owned sneakers. Four years later, the USC College sophomore shows no sign of slowing down.

    Woodburn's outreach work with Give Running, in addition to his excellent academic record, earned the history major recognition as one of People magazine's "Heroes Among Us," and most recently, a Liberty Mutual Responsible Scholars award, an accolade given to undergraduate students enrolled in an accredited university who have demonstrated what it means to be responsible in their communities. Woodburn was one of the five finalists who were flown to Boston, Mass., in April and given a tour of Liberty Mutual headquarters.

    "We met with one of the vice presidents, Tim Sweeney," Woodburn said. "It was really important, given his busy schedule, that he spent so much time with us. That made it really clear Liberty Mutual isn't just giving the money to try to look good, they're actually trying to enhance or benefit these causes."

    Given the interest Liberty Mutual has shown in the finalists' nonprofit work, Woodburn hopes Give Running can be supported by the "Give With Liberty" program, in which the company matches 50 cents on the dollar for every donation its employees make to one or more of the charities on its list.

    "One thing I've noticed more and more as I've been working with Give Running is it encapsulates more causes, more benefits, more opportunities than I thought it would," Woodburn said.

    For example, last winter Woodburn accompanied other USC College students on a trip to Mali, a country in West Africa. He brought some of his shoes with him and distributed them to the villagers, an experience he called "life-changing."

    This summer he will take part in the USC Global Impact program, spending two months in the region of Karnataka, India, where he plans to develop the infrastructure for an outreach program that includes the establishment of a shoe donation center.

    "In some Third World nations, kids aren't allowed to go to school unless they have shoes," Woodburn said. "So not only would, essentially, their first pair of shoes allow them to walk to school, but [it] would also help them be able to attend school. It has some ties with education I hadn't initially anticipated."

    In addition to the shoes' influence on education, Woodburn has become aware of his organization's environmental impact.

    "There's more crossover than I thought," Woodburn said. "These shoes go to people that can use them, instead of getting dumped in a landfill. We're also working on programs in which shoes we receive that are in too poor of a condition to donate to people are recycled. There are programs that take used running shoes and use the rubber in them to make new tracks for track and field, promoting running in another way."

    Running is very important to Woodburn, who would like to coach cross-country and track and field in the future, but he is also a dedicated student. In addition to his history courses, he's working on minors in entrepreneurship and art.

    "I suppose it is a cliché to say that a student was a pleasure to have in one's classroom," Diana Williams, assistant professor of history and law, wrote in her recommendation letter to Liberty Mutual, "but that really was the case with Greg. His presence lent a maturity and intellectual curiosity from which I believe all the students benefited."

    Woodburn feels very fortunate to have come to USC on a Trustee Scholarship, which is awarded to outstanding freshmen based on academic accomplishments as well as involvement in co-curricular activities and leadership.

    "USC is the right fit for me, I definitely feel at home here," he said. "I belong at USC."