Ryan Venter has seen the positive impact the YMCA’s Circle of Champs program can have on special needs children.

It’s why he has spent as much of his free time as possible training for the run of his life.

What You Need To Know

  • On September 4, Ryan Venter will attempt to run 40 miles on his 40th birthday to raise money and awareness for the Circle of Champs program

  • Overseen by the local YMCA, Circle of Champs provides services to special needs children and their families

  • Venter now works in athletics at the College of St. Rose, but is a former YMCA employee

“My 40th birthday is on September 4 of this year, and my goal is to run 40 miles on that day,” he said.

Coining it “40 at 40,” Venter is running to raise money and awareness for the Circle of Champs.

Born with severe physical and intellectual disabilities, Amanda Canaday just celebrated her 18th birthday. Her mother, Michelle, signed her up for the Circle of Champs program about a decade ago.

“I think what she likes best about it is we get up and we go; they give us a place to go,” Michelle said during a visit to the YMCA’s Guilderland branch.

Along with offering the services of the Y for free, the program organizes special outings and brings the families together.

“We try to do one signature event a year, and all of these programs are underwritten by sponsors,” said Sandy Nardoci, one of the four co-founders of Circle of Champs.

“I want my child to be integrated into society,” Canaday said. “I want her to have the same normalcy that every other child has, and I want to be able to do that in a community that will accept her, and the Champs does that.”

As a former YMCA employee, Venter says he was privileged to see the benefits of the Circle of Champs program up close.

Venter now works in athletics at the College of St. Rose.

“Yesterday, I ran 23 miles, which is my longest run yet in my training, so I am a bit sore, but I am back at it today,” Venter said during a run along a section of the Albany Rail Trail near his home in Slingerlands. “There’s no rest.”

Venter’s big day is fast approaching. He says the children are never far from his thoughts on each run.

“Knowing that I am helping out with the Circle of Champs program is helping me stay motivated,” Venter said. “It is not easy doing this training in June, July, the dog days of summer.”

Nardoci says the program currently benefits more than 100 families, and the Y expects Venter’s fundraiser will help it expand its reach.

“We are very grateful to him for the opportunity that it has given us, and we will forever be indebted to him for his kindness and generosity,” Nardoci said.

Venter is running between 40 and 50 miles a week to get ready.

Both Venter and Canaday hope his actions will inspire others to take up similar acts of kindness.

“That is a big reason why I am doing this: It is not just for me, it is not just to say I am running 40 miles, it is to say I am doing this for other people and other families,” Venter said.

“That says a lot about him as a human being,” Canaday said. “I admire that, and I just wish more people would be kind enough to do that.”