Professional Runner Trains Youths Through SpeedKIDZ

Dawn Grunnagle

When Dawn Grunnagle got her first job at a yogurt shop, her goal was to earn $125 to replace her imitation Keds with a pair of Nike Air Max. But she had forgotten about taxes, and when she got her paycheck after two weeks of work, it wasn’t enough.

“It’s ironic,” she said, “because I ended up being sponsored by Nike how many years later.”

Today, Grunnagle’s running resume includes three Olympic Trials qualifying times — the most recent in 2020 at the Berlin Marathon when she was 42 — and two gold medals at the 2019 USA Masters National Championships in Torun, Poland. 

But Grunnagle is proudest of the work she’s done with young athletes as the founder of SpeedKIDZ, where she aims to bring out the best in each athlete and teach proper running form and technique. SpeedKIDZ has been training in Germany Park since 2011, when Grunnagle began the program with five athletes. 

Grunnagle now has 30 to 40 boys and girls in SpeedKIDZ, her program for younger kids, and the same number in APEX TC, which is geared toward high schoolers. Her athletes have gone on to run for schools around the country, including Yale, Texas Tech, UT, MIT, and Indiana University.

“One of the things I always tell the SpeedKIDZ is, ‘I want you to come every day and I just want you to be better than last time you were here,’” Grunnagle said. “So maybe that means that you do one extra interval, or maybe that means that you show more encouragement to your teammate. Maybe that means that you work on your mental toughness. … We’re building the overall athlete and not just runners.”

Grunnagle’s athletes also make contributions in the community. SpeedKIDZ projects have included raising more than $10,000 for The Cure Starts Now Foundation, which supports pediatric cancer research, and creating more than 200 personalized activity books for dialysis and chemotherapy patients at Children’s Medical Center Dallas.

Giving back is important to Grunnagle, who grew up as one of six children in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Her father was a factory worker, and her mother took on multiple cleaning jobs to help support the family. As a child, Grunnagle, who is 5’1’’, played “scrappy basketball” with her five brothers. 

Grunnagle, the first in her family to go to college, came to Texas on a full athletic scholarship at Texas Tech. She taught at Merriman Park Elementary and Good Shepherd Episcopal School before deciding in 2011 to focus on running. 

Recently, Grunnagle has put helping her pigtailed 1-year-old, Levi, toddle down the track ahead of working on her speed. However, her future ambitions include writing a children’s book series, creating a nonprofit for children’s health and fitness, hosting a SpeedKIDZ mile race, and competing in the 2024 World Masters Athletics Championships in Gothensburg, Sweden.

“If you have the right people in your life and the right motivation and determination to do something, you can do it,” she said. “I always take to heart that I am a role model to young girls.”

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