Canadian Running

Club Scene

Indige­nous Run­ning Club, Lon­don Ont.

- By Melissa Offner Sports · Running · Marathon · Athletics · John F. Kennedy · Toronto · Marathon Oil · London · Ontario · North Vancouver · Vancouver · Matthew Kennedy

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.

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