Runner has ‘a huge heart for kids’

It will be his second marathon.

Andrew Watson, founder and executive director of the ranch, located in the Holland community in Faulkner County, is in awe of his friend’s dedication to the Soaring Wings cause.

“Words can’t describe how I feel about somebody who takes it upon themselves to basically do their own fundraising to support the ranch,” he said. “It’s very humbling. Dave is the real deal. He’s got a huge heart and a huge heart for kids.

“It’s been awesome for me to get to know him over the last few months.”

On his fundraising website, Cronk wrote: “I love running for kids and trying to help. The focus on others is truly motivating.”

In 2008, Cronk and his wife, Rebecca, then living in Minnesota, went through a team weight loss program.

“Being in sales, I’m somewhat competitive in the job, and I needed to set some goals for myself, so I started setting personal goals to be healthy,” he said.

Dave had played soccer, basketball and tennis, but he’d never been a runner. He ran a 5K then set his sights on the Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis.

“I thought it’d be fun,” he said. “So I set out on a path to run a 10K, then a half-marathon, then I did the Twin Cities. It was great. I definitely hit the wall pretty hard, but I enjoyed it.”

On Toad Suck Daze weekend in 2009, he, Rebecca and their children – Ethan, Grace and Sarah – moved to Conway with the new HP facility. He quickly met Dustin Speer, co-director of the Soaring Wings Half-Marathon and a member of the ranch’s board of directors, and the couple got involved in the race.

Dave embraces running for a purpose, so he set about raising money for the ranch. In 2009, he raised $700.

Soaring Wings officials dangled a challenge: for $5,000, they would pay the runner’s entry into a marathon and a hotel room for a night.

 In 2010, he set up his web page early and wound up raising $5,500.

“I reached out to people I work with, people I partnered with, and said, ‘Hey, I’m running for a purpose, and this is what this place does if you want to help.’ More than 80 people contributed.”

And he set about looking for his second marathon, settling on Paris, where Rebecca had once lived and where the couple went for his 40th birthday.

Hooked, he looked for how to do more, and the $24,000 goal was born.

“Dave came up with the idea of setting a goal of around $25,000, and I said, ‘Dave, how about setting it for less?’ and he looked at me, like, ‘Really?’” Watson recalled. “I told him that $24,000 is a good goal and what that does is raise money for the ranch, and even more importantly it raises awareness that it costs that much per child per year. So you’re running for the cause but also creating awareness that we need more monthly donors and ongoing support.”

Soaring Wings Ranch opened on Aug. 1, 2007. The first phase includes two homes, each housing eight residents. Phase II is on the horizon.

The Cronks will leave for Paris on Wednesday, April 6, rest a bit before the race and enjoy the city for a few days afterward. As promised, Soaring Wings will pay for the entry fee and one night in a hotel.

Andrew said he’d love to pay off on that challenge every year.

But Dave said he was the beneficiary of more than just a hotel room and an entry fee.

“You get the side benefit of a healthier lifestyle,” he said. “I need structure. It’s easy to not follow a routine if you don’t have to.”

The Cronks adopted their younger daughter, Sarah, from China four years ago, opening his eyes to his running purpose.

“There are 152 million orphans in the world, and very little is being done for them,” he said. “The mission that I’m on personally, and I’m working with friends on, is how do you serve these kids after they graduate out of foster care or an orphanage? The great thing about Soaring Wings is, after many have been in abusive situations, giving them a chance, including kind of shepherding them through their teenage years, helping them find a college, helping them figure out what are they going to do vocationally.

“There are little things you can do to get involved and have an impact. For me, the challenge over the last couple of years is thinking about all those kids, and what can one person do? But if one person gets involved and talks to other people, it has exponential possibility. If something can be done to help them do more, it’s meaningful.”

Dave would love to meet his $24,000 goal before he leaves for Paris. A good portion of his support at press time had come from HP’s employee charitable giving program, in which the company matches employees’ contributions.

“So $8,000 is just off people really hearing about it and wanting to get involved,” he said. “A couple of guys I work with from out of state each gave a substantial amount. There’s some excitement with people who get it. They say, ‘Maybe the way I can get involved is by financially supporting something,’ and that’s what I’m trying to do with Andrew, talking about how to get the message out.

“If people are inspired by people doing something that’s challenging, that’s great.”

And besides what it does for others, running helps him, too.

“I like being able to get alone and just clear my head,” he said. “I love getting up early. (In November,) I took 400 of my reps to Las Vegas for our sales kickoff, and I encouraged them all to get up and run with me. So at 5 a.m., about 30 of us ran the strip in Las Vegas.

“It’s a good stress reliever and a great way to start the day. I most enjoy running alone. It’s a time for me to listen to music when I can pray and think about what’s going on.”