Steve Marrero will look completely out of place on May 31. He'll also be right where he wants to be.

Steve Marrero will look completely out of place on May 31.

He'll also be right where he wants to be.

Marrero was the winner of the SoleMale spot in the Girls on the Run 5K, which will take place at 8 a.m. at Walsh University. Marrero's winning bid of $1,800 allowed him to be the only male runner in the event, which is sponsored by Girls on the Run (GOTR), an organization that uses running as a vehicle to build confidence through fitness in young girls in Stark County.

For Marrero, the money and the time he has spent preparing for the race are more than worth the investment because of what the program has meant to his daughter Olivia, a fifth grader at Sauder Elementary School.

"I'm really a casual runner and I'm not out there every day like some of my friends, but my little girl was very resistant at first to join Girls on the Run and we sat her down and said, 'We want you to give this a try,'" Marrero said of the conversation he and his wife Ursula had with their daughter.

When Olivia Marrero went to the first GOTR practice, she found the going tough. Prior to joining the program, she was not in an organized sport and was focused more on music and the arts than sports. Her parents suggested GOTR as a way for her to balance out her love of the arts with physical activity. As a first-time runner, she went through the same adjustment period as all new runners endure.

"When she got home, she said, 'It was tough, but I did it,' and it was very nice to hear," Steve Marrero said.

The more Olivia became involved with the program, the more her parents learned about it. Steve Marrero noted that because GOTR focuses on a more holistic approach and building up the entire person rather than just running, the benefits his daughter has experienced extend beyond physical fitness.

As Olivia became more excited about running and going to GOTR practices twice a week, her father began thinking back to his past as a runner. Steve Marrero ran a marathon in 1999 as part of an effort among a group of friends to honor another friend who passed away after a battle with leukemia. Marrero's focus on running waned over the years, but seeing his daughter jump into the sport triggered an idea in his mind.

When the SoleMale auction was announced, Steve and Ursula Marrero had a conversation that caught him off guard.

"When I heard about the opportunity for (the) SoleMale, i didn't think we were going to go after it, sat down with my wife and she said it would be very cool to do."

After winning the auction, Steve Marrero began training for the race. He and Olivia recently began going to North Park to run on the paths that circle the park and have continued to encourage each other as they train for their first 5K together. Asked how much she can run now, Olivia smiles and explains how far she has come in a matter of months.

"I can run about two-thirds of the way (to a 5K)," she said. "Running outside is tougher. I like running inside with the air conditioning."

Steve Marrero is documenting he and Olivia's training progress on his Facebook page, as well as sharing the enthusiasm his daughter shows every time she comes home from a GOTR practice and communicates what she has learned. He is more than happy to be along for the ride - or run - and doesn't mind at all if that makes him the outsider amongst a pack of girls chugging their way toward the finish line on May 31.

Reach Andy at 330-580-8396 or andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com.
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB