New Orleans is a city known for excess of every kind: food, drink, and entertainment are widely available at all times to the point of distraction. Too much of the good times can take a toll on your body.
LCI Member New Orleans Track Club has been trying to get people to become more active by proving that you can be fit and still have fun with your friends. Sitting President Casey Urschel further expanded that mission to include all ages and capabilities.
The Bluegrass State
NOTC President Casey Urschel is a native of Lexington, Kentucky. He attended the University of Kentucky where he worked to receive a BS in Finance and Marketing before going to the University of Louisville to get an MBA. Soon after that in 2013, he started working as an Agency Relationship Manager for Humana, and he moved to New Orleans to cover the Louisiana and Mississippi region. “I used to work for Humana, a great big insurance company based out of Louisville. I worked for them for five or six years, and I eventually got laid off,” said Casey.
As a naturally-driven individual, Casey knew that losing his job was the perfect opportunity to do better for himself. He founded Uptown Benefits in 2019. “I always wanted to start my own business. Frankly, I don’t think I had the courage to do it, but then I got fired. So that made the choice a lot easier for me.” Uptown Benefits was a great fit for Casey because helping people understand the benefits offered to them through health insurance will hopefully lead them to healthier living, something he is passionate about. “I enjoy this business because I think it overlaps with my love of health and fitness and running. Just encouraging people to get out and be active and take care of their bodies. Running and walking is a good way to do that.”
As soon as Casey moved to New Orleans, he joined groups of people that shared his passion for running. What he didn’t predict was that he would quickly garner one of the top spots in the New Orleans running scene. He recalled, “When I moved here, I immediately latched on with a couple different running groups and made friends in the running world here in New Orleans, and I was turned onto the NOTC. I had a friend ask if I wanted to run for the Board of Directors. I didn’t know anybody at all, and I wasn’t even a member at the time, so I had to join first. I eventually ended up volunteering, then getting elected to the Board, served as the Vice President, then the last two years as president.”
The illustrious New Orleans Track Club has been an LCI member since 2013, but the non-profit club’s history goes back to the 1960s. Casey explained, “We were founded in 1963, a bunch of Brother Martin and Jesuit guys who liked to run. There’s a few of them still around. Occasionally, they’ll come and tell stories about how they started collecting dues and charging for races. They had a cigar box that was the Treasury. At the end of the first year, the profit was like a dollar and a quarter. It has grown over the years; now we have a full-time race director, two part-timers, an equipment manager and an admin person. We’re membership-based, so we’ve got about 3,000 members. This is constantly evolving and changing in the COVID world. In a normal year, we put on about 15 races.”
The funds raised from all of those races go to local charitable organizations and the NOTC’s scholarship program which grants scholarships to active NOTC members who are entering their first year of college. “It’s a really good organization because it’s got a really good history behind it. We put on a lot of different events, and we even put on free events. We do a lot to help out other running groups and businesses in town.”
While race day is always fun, the work beforehand can be challenging and even frustrating. Casey illustrated just how tedious race planning can be, saying, “By far the most challenging thing is working with the permitting authority is for that area to get your permit in place and to get your insurance in place. The City Council has to get involved and pass a resolution to allow you to do it. You have to get your insurance policy specifically in place to protect all the employees, volunteers, and participants. Then you have to deal with the police and the permitting authority to make sure that you have a permit for everywhere they’re running. We’re very fortunate that the club owns all sorts of equipment: timing equipment, tents, speaker systems, and two vehicles. So many volunteers have been doing this so long, you pretty much just show up with the two trucks and the volunteers know where to go. It’s really impressive so many people have been doing it for so long. Race day is not that hard; it’s all the stuff leading up to it.”
The NOTC began bringing races to existing festivals in order to make permitting easier and to increase attendance which has worked out well. One of the NOTC’s largest races happens before Greek Fest at the Greek Orthodox Church in the Lakeview neighborhood. “Greek Fest is a huge event; it’s normally about 1,500 runners that do that. It’s appealing to the runners because you sign up for the event, you do the 5K, and as soon as it’s over, you walk straight into the festival with all your friends you just did the race with.”
Regardless of racing before festivals, New Orleans Track Club races became known for having a highly social atmosphere after the races that often culminated in lots of beer. During Casey’s presidency, however, he worked to change that perception by adding more family-friendly events. He said, “When we put on a race here, it is very much expected that when you get to the end of that race, there is unlimited food and beer. But we also want to be as inclusive as we can and welcoming of everybody. That includes people who maybe don’t want to be involved with something that has party attached to it. We do target certain races where we encourage more participation for the whole family or young kids, and change the post-race party for those. It’s Louisiana; people like to have a good time, but we don’t necessarily want to encourage a party atmosphere at every single thing. There needs to be a nice range so that all runners and walkers can get involved.”
It does appear that running, biking, and other outdoor activities have excelled in recent times. In fact, many sporting goods stores reported that they were running low or even selling out of equipment like bicycles. Casey continued, “The parks are packed and have been for the last year because bars were shut down, restaurants were shut down, people couldn’t travel as much. You’ve got to get out of the house and do something. What we’ve found with some of our partners like the bike stores, you couldn’t hardly buy a bike because they were sold out. Or if you could buy one, you had to wait for months for it come in. I think people found an old pair of running shoes or an old bike sitting in the garage for the last ten years. The weather was nice and they were stuck indoors, so they thought that they might as well get out and run. I think people are re-finding outdoor activities that have always been fun, but they’re rediscovering them as other options have closed down.”
All Are Welcome
The NOTC would like to welcome all runners, walkers, and wheelers of all ages out to enjoy a race this year. Casey said, “We have people who come out who are racing to win and are training for the Olympics, but there’s a whole lot more people who want to come out simply to socialize, maybe they want to walk. We have worked hard over the last few years to make people understand that it’s not always a race. We’ve even changed a lot of the language to include Run & Walk. I think that’s important for people to know; you don’t have to fit a certain demographic or dynamic. We’re trying to make sure that everybody can get involved at different price points and places.”
You can learn more about the New Orleans Track Club and sign up for a race at the NOTC website.