Impact Story: Regina Fleming

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Philanthropist Regina “The Queen” Fleming was an unlikely candidate to raise money for charities through running. She wasn’t a runner at all when she signed up for her first race in 2015 after learning about it in a magazine. Ten days before the race, Regina took a closer look at the details: She had signed up for a half marathon.  

“I had no idea what a half marathon was so I Googled ‘half marathon’ and it said ‘13.1 miles,’” recalls Regina, an award-winning photographer based in New York City. “Now I’m not a runner—I don’t even drive in the city—so I’m thinking 13 is something small.”

 Through her online research, she was surprised to learn she would have to train for the event. She called her nephew, a college runner at the time, and followed his advice to buy new running shoes as soon as possible so she could break them in before race day. Then, for the next nine days, she ran on a treadmill in the gym at her apartment building. On the 10th day, she ran the half marathon.  

“Because I was new to this. I had no idea—I didn’t know you could stop. I didn’t know you were supposed to drink water. I knew nothing,” Regina says. “I made it through the finish line. I didn’t know you got a medal and once I got a medal, that was it. A star was born.”

Since that first race in 2015, Regina has run almost 100 races, from 5Ks (3.1 miles) to marathons (26.2 miles), including five of the world’s largest road races—New York City, Chicago, Berlin, London, and Boston. When she completes the Tokyo marathon in March, she will earn the Abbott World Marathon Majors Six Star Finisher Medal, one of the most exclusive race prizes in the running world.   Along the way, Regina has raised thousands of dollars for charities through running. As a photographer, she also donates her time to take photos of young people in foster care so they have a portrait of themselves.  

In this interview with Return on Good, Regina shares her passion for running, photography and philanthropy.

Return on Good: I think most people who had never run before would have skipped that first half marathon. What does it say about you that you just went for it?  Regina: Mindset is everything. If you think you can do it, you can do it. If you think you can’t do it, you can’t do it. You have to shift your mind to say, ‘Why not me?’ Success leaves breadcrumbs. How you do one thing is how you do everything. Just think: All those years until the day I ran, that little nugget that I could run was inside of me and I didn’t even know it. So, think about how many things are inside of you that you don’t even know you can do. I can go on and on, but I will say this: If you change your mindset, you change your world.  Return on Good: When did the idea land on you to raise money for charities?  Regina: After I ran that first half marathon, I put into the Universe that I wanted to run a marathon. My best friend’s significant other had a charity, Grassroots Soccer, which leverages soccer with teaching young people in Africa about how to make great decisions about their health. He said if I wanted to run, I could raise money and run for his charity. I thought that was great. Grassroots Soccer works with a lot of adolescents who might be HIV positive or have AIDS. That was the first charity I ran for and then I just continued raising money. I’ve run for Team for Kids, which brings fitness into schools. Another charity that I ran for fought apartheid in South Africa. I like charities that make an impact. Sometimes it’s the underdog charity that’s smaller and not well known. I can help them and add to the research they’re doing or the number of people they’re helping. That’s how I look at each charity that I decide to run for.  

Return on Good: So, to raise money for charities, you ask family, friends, colleagues, etc. to sponsor you? Is that how it works?  [caption id="attachment_1463" align="alignright" width="240"]

Morgan Stanley's Carla Harris - photograph by Regina Fleming[/caption]  Regina: A hundred percent. So, I’m a one-woman team sometimes. I will share my story (with potential donors) about how I started running, why I’m running for this particular charity and what they can do. I think a lot of people have difficulty raising money because they don’t know how to tell the story. In telling the story, you have to have a connection with your ‘why.’ There has to be something that will make it interesting to the people you are asking to donate money. I’m always full of stories. My ‘why’ is always strong whenever I ask people to donate. Some people are nervous to ask the same people. You can ask the same people—this is a different charity. It’s a win-win for everyone. I win because I get to run this marathon. You win because you get to help in making a difference in this world. The organization wins because now they have more money to be more impactful in the world. If everybody gave to whatever charity they wanted to give to, we could change this world in 24 hours.  Return on Good: How does running with a purpose impact you?  Regina: It impacts me because it really makes me grateful. I was on the subway after the New York City marathon and I saw an older gentleman. I asked him, ‘Why do you run?’ And he said, ‘Because my wife can’t.’ And when he stood to walk away, he had a sign on his back that said, ’77 marathons and counting.’ This man looked like he was in his eighties. So, my word is ‘grateful.’ I’m grateful that I’m in good health, that I can run, that this is an opportunity that I can do. There are so many ways to be a philanthropist. There are so many ways to give. I’m fortunate right now that running is one of my ways of giving and I’m able to do it. But if that should change, I’ll find another way to give.

Ready to Do the Most Good?

If you’re a philanthropist with an inspiring story to tell (or know someone who is), contact Return on Good. We may select you for our I Am a Philanthropist initiative.