Indigenous Running Club, London Ont.
When Joel Matthew Kennedy and nine other members of the Indigenous Running Club ( irc) toed the line at the Longboat Toronto Island Run in September 2016 with their newly designed club shirts, they had no idea of the impact it would have on Indigenous runners across the country.
Kennedy had only st arted running again a few months previously. He started running in 2013, but two consecutive injuries were followed by two years of inactivity and weight gain. Fuelled by his fear of becoming diabetic, like so many people in his community, the Oneida Nation and Bear Clan husband and father of two wasn’t only on a mission to improve his health. “I am trying to normalize Indigenous runners participating in any type of event, whether it’s a local 5k or one of the Abbott World Marathon Majors,” says Kennedy. “Not just for me or the irc, but for any Indigenous runner out there.”
After losing 50 pounds and completing his second 5k in March 2016, Kennedy’s foc us shifted f rom his personal weightloss jou r ney to improving as a r unner a nd building a communit y. With t he help of his f r iends a nd his workplace, t he N’A merind F r iendship Cent re (a n Indigenous friendship cent re in London, Ont.), he launched irc.
The first night, 19 people showed up and the group began training twice a week. Since the launch, Kennedy has offered several training programs year-round for runners of all levels. “I look at myself as a support for members as they work through their programs,” he says. “I share the knowledge that I have learned. What I find works best for the community is app-based programs – couch-to-5k and 5k-to-10k are popular, and for those interested in running farther, I try to connect them with programs from clinics I have attended.”
As for Kennedy’s personal goals, he and two other irc members, Lorna and Jared, trained together to complete their first halfmarathon in 2017, followed by Hamilton’s Around the Bay 30k in 2018 and their first full marathon that October, all within a year and a half of running again. During that time, not only did the run club grow, but Kennedy successfully brought his weight down by 165 pounds.
The reaction to irc since its inception is bigger than Kennedy could have imagined. “The interest every year continues to grow, with members returning and new ones beginning,” he says.
But success didn’t come without struggles. “In 2018, the club almost didn’t happen, as the support wasn’t there,” Kennedy says. “It was the members who pushed me to find the support, and I was able to keep going.” Getting the word out to Indigenous communities has been challenging, but the irc club shirts that every member wears at races have been an effective tool. “I believe the shirt gives people a sense of belonging, so they don’t feel alone even if they are the only one at an event or training through a neighbourhood,” Kennedy says. “They wear it with pride.”
Kennedy hopes eventually to organize a 5k/10k race as a way to promote awareness and prevention of Type 2 diabetes in the Indigenous community.
Melissa Offner is a television and podcast host, the leader of the North Vancouver run crew RUNDISTRIKT and an avid runner.