Longtime Houston Marathon runner, local charity she supports draw inspiration from each other

LaToyia Adams is again running this year’s Chevron Houston Marathon in support of Steel Magnolia Moms, a local charity benefitting mothers with special needs children. The runner and organization have developed a unique bond through the marathon’s Run for a Reason program.

LaToyia Adams Houston Marathon
LaToyia Adams
LaToyia Adams shows off her medal after completing the Chevron Houston Marathon in 2022.

LaToyia Adams is a bodybuilder and fitness guru who has been running distance races for about half of her life. She has completed all 26 miles of the Chevron Houston Marathon every year since 2015.

But it's usually a challenge for Adams, a 38-year-old Houston resident who works as a corporate healthcare attorney along with conducting online fitness classes. Her body tends to hit a figurative wall at the 18-mile mark, she said, which makes her wonder if she'll be able to make it to the finish line.

Adams has so far pushed through, because her thoughts of doubt are quickly replaced by feelings of inspiration. Last year, for example, she thought about 8-year-old Jonah Bryan, who was born three months prematurely along with a twin brother, Austin, who did not survive. Jonah still copes with multiple medical conditions, including cerebral palsy and chronic lung disease, according to his mother, Morgan Bryan.

Adams was running in support of the Bryan family and Steel Magnolia Moms, a local charity benefitting mothers of special needs children. And Jonah was on hand to support his favorite marathon runner, holding a sign that read, "Go LaToyia! RUN."

"That's the motivation you need," Adams said. "I can push through some pain, put some KT tape on or take an aspirin. At the end of the day, I still do it for them."

Adams is doing it again this year, running in the full marathon on Sunday morning as well as the We Are Houston 5K on Saturday. A half-marathon also will be held Sunday, with a total of about 33,000 runners signed up for the three races.

And Adams is again running on behalf of Steel Magnolia Moms, one of 63 charities benefitting this year from the marathon's Run for a Reason program, which started in 1995 and has since raised about $35 million for charitable causes in the Houston area. About 1,100 runners annually participate in the fundraising program, according to Augie Rayner, the charity program manager for the Houston Marathon Committee.

Rayner said other participating runners have raised much more money than Adams, who has secured about $9,000 in charitable donations since competing in the marathon. What makes Adams unique, Rayner said, is that she has supported several different causes over the years – including Sunshine Kids, Ronald McDonald House, Special Olympics and Friends of Down Syndrome.

What also sets Adams apart, according to Morgan Bryan and Steel Magnolia Moms founder Elizabeth Elder, is that she has taken a personal interest and involvement in the 7-year-old organization and some of the families it benefits. Adams attends some of the events held by Steel Magnolia Moms, which does wellness workshops, support-group gatherings and retreats, and has become a family friend of the Bryans, even attending some of Jonah's soccer games.

Jonah Bryan Houston Marathon
LaToyia Adams
Houston resident Jonah Bryan, 8, holds up a sign in support of Chevron Houston Marathon runner LaToyia Adams, who for the last two years has raised money for a charitable cause that supports Bryan’s family.

Adams also has maintained a relationship with one of her previous beneficiaries. She said she conducts fitness classes for Friends of Down Syndrome once every month or two.

"We love LaToyia," Elder said. "We're so happy to have her on our team. We're lucky to have her on our team."

Some of the families affiliated with Steel Magnolia Moms also have drawn inspiration from Adams. Their budding relationship prompted Morgan Bryan to run the 5K last year, and her husband, Travis, is taking on the full marathon this year.

The reason Adams is running for Steel Magnolia Moms for the second year in a row is because she made a pact with benefitting mother Shannon Essex, who pledged to run the marathon this year if Adams remained on the team, according to Elder.

Morgan Bryan said the organization, which has grown from 18 members in 2016 to more than 1,600 this year, also was touched by the fact Adams had no prior connection to Steel Magnolia Moms or its benefitting families before deciding to raise money for them.

"She's just been such a force," Bryan said. "To have someone who didn't know us feel moved by the cause is a pretty big deal. It made us feel like an official organization instead of just a group of moms."

Adams' journey toward marathon running started when she was 19 years old, when she was overweight, had high blood pressure and was told she was at risk for diabetes. She started exercising and running, starting with 5K events before progressing to longer distances, and fairly early on realized she wanted to participate in races that were tied to charitable causes.

After moving to Houston, at which point Adams also had begun bodybuilding, she set a goal of running in the city's annual marathon every year during her 30s. She has always participated in the Run for a Reason program, which allows Adams to have her entry fees covered by the charity she's supporting if she raises at least $500 or $1,000, depending on the charity.

LaToyia Adams Elders
LaToyia Adams
Chevron Houston Marathon runner LaToyia Adams, left, poses for a picture with Blair Elder, center, and Elizabeth Elder, during last year’s race. Elizabeth Elder is the founder of Steel Magnolia Moms, a Houston-area charity that benefits mothers with special needs children.

Adams already has surpassed her fundraising goal for this year, having raised $2,550 for Steel Magnolia Moms. Donations can be made on her online fundraising page through mid-February.

"We are extremely grateful for their efforts to give back to their community," Rayner said of runners like Adams.

Even though her original plan was to stop running the marathon at age 40, Adams said she intends to keep running in Houston's marathon as long as her body will allow. And even after that point, she said, she'll continue to fundraise in conjunction with the event.

Families such as the Bryans are grateful for that. Jonah's mother said he likes to brag about the fact Adams "runs for me," and she also has endeared herself to Jonah's sister, 6-year-old Quinn Bryan.

Jonah, Morgan and Quinn are planning to set up near the 6-mile mark on Sunday, so they can cheer on Travis Bryan as well as Adams. So maybe Adams will already have the inspiration she usually needs at the 18-mile mark.

"They give me way more than I can ever give them," Adams said. "To go out and run a race is definitely a privilege, to have health and the endurance to be able to do it.

"But at the end of the day it means nothing," she added. "The charities and the people the charities are benefitting deal with these ailments on a daily basis. The least I can do is fundraise and bring awareness."

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