Ronnel Blackmon: From Microphone to Marathon for Kilometer Kids
When Ronnel Blackmon first started emceeing Atlanta Track Club races about eight years ago, organizers would rent platforms from which he could work.
That didn't last long because he never used them.
Stand still? High above the people? Out of arm's reach? That is not how "your favorite host and emcee, Ronnel Blackmon" operates.
This is how "your favorite host and emcee, Ronnel Blackmon" operates: At full kinetic throttle, a human confetti cannon of encouragement, a joyful noise of positivity.
Whether hyping up the crowd at a road race, conducting school fitness programs, playing host at corporate events, hosting his podcast Holla Black or walking a fashion-show runway, the 41-year-old Blackmon does not stand still. On Sunday, he will take things a step - OK, about 55,000 steps - further when he runs his first 26.2-miler at the TCS New York City Marathon, as part of the five-member Atlanta Track Club Kilometer Kids Charity Team. Their goal is to raise $10,000 for the Club's free running program for kids.
"He embodies everything the Club stands for," said Jennie Coakley, the Club's director of events, "and he's now living it every day by running."
Until last year, Blackmon had barely jogged since his days as a sprinter back at Harvey S. Firestone High School in Akron, Ohio. But a milestone birthday - he had just turned 40 - prompted a reboot. It was time he looked into ways to stay fit. He didn't have to look far.
"Being on the microphone cheering on all the runners, seeing them not only start off strong but finish stronger, seeing their eyes light up when they see that finish line, those types of encouraging things actually had me like, Ronnel, try something new," he recounted on a video promoting his Kilometer Kids fundraising.
So while talking on the phone with Coakley one day during a walk around his outside-the-perimeter neighborhood, Blackmon told her he wanted to run a marathon.
Coakley recommended he join the Club's In-Training Program, with the goal of being ready for the Publix Atlanta Half Marathon as a steppingstone to a full. On February 26, Blackmon ran his first 13.1-miler, in 2:17.10 - sandwiched in between his usual role on the other side of the pack.
Among his In-Training partners is Laura Lucas, who was running her first marathon that day.
"I really struggled the final few miles," said Lucas, citing the challenging course made tougher by unseasonably warm temperatures, "but when I turned the final corner toward the finish line, I heard Ronnel cheering me on, and was able to run strong all the way in. It's just incredible to me that as emcee he sent off all the start waves … then ran a half marathon, and then was still there at the finish as emcee again."
The day - on his feet for about eight hours, racing and emceeing until every last runner crossed line - was Blackmon in a nutshell, exemplifying his signature exhortation to "go, gO, GO!" The co-founder along with his wife, Tinika, of More Than Me LLC estimated that he works 300 days a year.
"He's a person who loves what he does," said Coakley," so I'm not sure he would tell you that he 'works' all those days,"
"Because I love what I do, 'work' doesn't feel like the thought of what 'work' is," said Blackmon, unaware of Coakley's identical observation. "This isn't something I HAVE to do; this is something I GET to do. … My purpose is to give, to serve. You do for yourself, which allows you to do for others, which gives you more, which means you have more to give.
"Everyone should enjoy what they do. I have this gift. I can provide it to the world. I can get paid to do it, I love it and I have some impact. There's a term, "ikigai," when something you're good at matches something the world needs."
As any marathon, the road to Atlanta Track Club and the work he does today was not a straight line.
Blackmon's parents were just seniors in high school when he was born, and he was raised largely by his mother. "My dad was present but young, and possibly didn't have the maturity to be the dad I would have wanted him to be," said Blackmon. "But now, looking at my purpose, he was the dad I needed to have in order for me to be who I am today."
After lettering for three years in track, basketball and football - and captaining all three teams his senior year - Blackmon walked on to The Ohio State University football team. An outside linebacker and defensive end at Firestone, he dreamed he would play for the Buckeyes after which he would have a career in the NFL. But after spring football as a freshman, a new kind of opportunity knocked: a prestigious modeling tour.
Unbeknownst to the 20-year-old, Blackmon's mother and grandmother had sent photos of him to organizers of the Ebony Fashion Fair. Launched by the co-founder of Johnson Publishing Company (which included the influential Ebony and Jet magazines) in 1958, the ground-breaking annual haute couture show featured Black models who traveled around the country by charter bus, raising not only the profile of the Black-owned publishing company and but also tens of millions of dollars for causes such as the United Negro College Fund.
When Blackmon landed in Chicago for the audition, he noticed a tall woman in the airport and thought, hmm, she's probably one of the models. They shared a ride to the hotel, and both ended up being selected for the tour. Four years later he and Tinika were married; they moved to her hometown of Atlanta and are now the parents of a 9-year-old son, Carter, and 4-year-old daughter, Reagan.
For six years, they toured for nine months at a stretch, hitting up to 187 cities a year - a different city almost every day. Having quit Ohio State for life on the road, Blackmon took up remote studies, eventually earning a bachelor's degree in business administration and a master's in psychology from the University of Phoenix.
After leaving the tour a year before it ceased existence in 2009 (although he and Tinika both continue to model, sometimes still as bride and groom), Blackmon held jobs with an Atlanta YMCA as a fitness coach; the nonprofit Interfaith Outreach Home, which aims to keep homeless families together in interim housing; and Boosterthon Fun Run, a fundraising service for schools, while focusing on getting his degrees.
In 2011, Blackmon began working with Children's Healthcare of Atlanta on its health and wellness programs for kids, and now spends about 100 days a year working as a program coordinator there. Not long before, the emcee of a fashion show - the eponymous head of Michael Blair Productions - had taken note of his personality and said, 'you could do what I do,' and was showing him the ropes before handing him a mic for the first time.
Which eventually brought him to this weekend, and the Atlanta Track Club Kilometer Kids Charity Team.
"Everyone's asking me, 'what is your goal time?' Blackmon said. "My big thing is to complete the race. One of my mantras this year is Completion Over Perfection. I want to finish this marathon and have a desire to run another."
That means taking photos along the way, seeing the sights, experiencing the bridges, looking forward to the hills ("We run in Atlanta: the hills pay the bills"), anticipating the energy, strategizing about going live on his Instagram during the race and meeting people as he gets 26.2 miles closer to fulfilling his most-immediate purpose.
"I've had so many people that have impacted me in my life, so I would love to do anything I can, whatever platform I have, to impact the next generation as well," he said. "Each step is not just for me. If I can raise awareness of Atlanta Track Club and Kilometer Kids, if I can raise as much money as I can for them … man, that means more than anything to me."
To donate to the Kilometer Kids Charity Team, click here.