Law student founds nonprofit group for young runners
by Nathaniel Miller
At 8 a.m. on a warm September Saturday at Woodlawn Lake Park, dozens of children’s hands were busy lacing up their running shoes for a morning run.
For his nonprofit Running Down a Dream, Shawn Barnett led a group of 14 school-aged children and their parents through warm-up stretches.
Before this group started its run, Barnett, a second-year J.D. student at the St. Mary’s University School of Law, told everyone to set a reasonable, achievable goal for themselves.
“It’s really important to set your goals and try to achieve them,” Barnett said.
Barnett’s goal, besides completing law school, is to make the nonprofit he founded in 2021, Running Down a Dream, an organization that brings children together and encourages them to thrive through shared exercise — regardless of their background or ability. Weekly runs for school-aged children comprise just one aspect of the nonprofit.
There is no cost to sign up, but the organization accepts donations of new or gently used running shoes for those in need. Coaches provide mentorship and training for those who want to run longer distances.
“These shoes allow someone to chase their dreams,” Barnett said.
Greg Zlotnick, J.D., Visiting Clinical Assistant Professor and Supervising Attorney with the Center for Legal and Social Justice, recalled Barnett’s excitement about starting the nonprofit.
“Despite the rigors of the first year of law school, Shawn demonstrated initiative, vision and enthusiasm in launching this project,” said Zlotnick, who oversaw the law school’s pro bono program for several years.
Originally from Austin, Barnett moved to San Antonio to attend law school after earning his undergraduate degree in Communications Studies at the University of Texas in Austin. In addition to having a great reputation, St. Mary’s allows Barnett remain in Texas while studying law close to home.
“That’s what our organization is about: giving kids the same opportunity I had growing up because my parents got me into running and being healthy at a young age.”
Running with a group in Austin growing up, Barnett found success through hard work and support, building endurance to eventually complete half and full marathons.
The work ethic that goes into running can also be applied to law school, Barnett said, adding both take focus, dedication and are greatly helped by a support group. Because some sports activities, like football and soccer, can have extra costs through equipment and fees, Barnett wanted to find a way to give children a chance to work together through running, which can be a lower-cost sport.
“That’s what our organization is about: giving kids the same opportunity I had growing up because my parents got me into running and being healthy at a young age,” Barnett said.
Lina Luque and her daughter, 7-year-old AnaSophia Everett, enjoy meeting with Running Down a Dream on weekends. Luque said the running group focuses on younger runners, which is great for their family because of the difficulty finding kid-friendly groups to join.
“It’s a very selfless thing to do,” Luque said of Barnett’s effort. “It takes a special person to think of others and do this.”