Susan Loken didn’t start running until she was well into her adult life. A stay-at-home mom, Loken was dedicated to her family when she moved to Arizona. But as her kids got older, she wanted to pick up an activity that got her in shape and introduced her to new people.

Fast forward 11 years and not only did that hobby turn into multiple Olympic trials, but it also enveloped her as an integral part of an organization that helps kids learn the importance of exercise and how to get fit themselves.

The Ahwatukee Foothills resident is the head coach and program director of Chances for Children — Arizona, a nonprofit organization that helps underpriveleged kids. At 48, Loken is in charge of a team of local runners, up to 30 in number, that will be running the New York City Marathon in November.

Last year their team, called Team Chances, and Chances for Children made a positive impact on hundreds of local kids, boosted their motivation and, at the end of it all, gave them a free pair of Nike running shoes.

The group raised nearly $120,000 in donations to participate in the NYC Marathon last year. That money helps Chances for Children, through the program Fit Kids, organize and operate programs at schools like Aguilar Elementary.

“Our goal is to break down all the barriers so they can improve their life,” Loken said. “Running is my passion and my purpose is to help other people. The money we raised last year provided a lot of kids with a year-long fitness program.”

On April 20 members of Team Chances visited Aguilar Elementary School, 5800 S. Forest Ave., in Tempe with 267 new pairs of Nike shoes. The sneakers were handed out to students if they ran 26 miles from September to January.

The hope, Loken said, is to develop them into lifelong fitness enthusiasts and inspire them to continue a healthy lifestyle after the program ends.

“Fitness promotes self confidence and in turn they get better grades in school,” Loken said. “When you get rewarded, you feel that you accomplished something and it makes you want to try harder. It gives them an extra boost of confidence and you see them lacing up the shoes, you can see that in their face.”

Find out more about Team Chances and Chances for Children at an informational meeting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 15 at The BAR Fitness, 4425 E. Agave Road, in Ahwatukee Foothills.

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