Cut The Winter Blues By 'Networking Out'

DETROIT—I am determined to beat the winter blues and the best way I know how is through good, old-fashioned exercise. This can be tricky here, in the Midwest. Not only does weather limit most activities to the indoors, it typically requires money. As much as I love yoga, I can’t afford to do it as often as I want.8

The gym is great for supplementing but can be a little too monotonous and even lonely. I would love to join an indoor soccer league but I’ve known lots of people who have gotten injured playing indoors.

When winter hit, I became so desperate that I was ready to fork over $200 to join a tennis club which didn’t even include any court time, mixers or drills. Then I got a story assignment.

Mode Shift’s Sandra Svoboda wrote a story about Run This Town earlier this year when they first began. It was summer and everyone was outside, jogging, running the Joe Louis stairs, sweating, making new friends. RTT was finding its niche.

Once the weather began to change, we wanted to check back and see how RTT was doing and if they had any plans for the winter. I jumped at the chance to meet new people and learn more about the fitness organization that aims to socialize Detroit by getting everyone together to sweat.

But, I was scared. Blindly walking into a new class, boot camp, gym or team can be intimidating without knowing where you rank on the fitness spectrum.

To ease my apprehension, I decided to meet RTT founders, Terrence Thompson, Shawn Blanchard and Arnold Harris, and interview them first. As I sat at Bottom Line Coffee waiting for them to arrive, I decided to Google them. Not only were these guys ridiculously attractive but they also seemed to be quite smart.

9Thompson is an attorney who is the vice president of Compliance at Flagstar Bank; Blanchard is in law school at Wayne State University; and the youngest, Harris, is working on his B.A. in Finance from WSU.

The most interesting tidbit I found, before even meeting them, is that each of them has a lengthy history of community involvement.

Once they arrived (I closed my google search), I felt as if we had known each other for years. There wasn’t any awkwardness and we even hugged each other right off the bat. Our meeting wasn’t an interview but rather a conversation between friends, community members, athletes and young professionals.

Although there was a fair amount of joking, the three dedicated advocates of fitness had nothing funny to say about the importance of health in our culture.

Michigan is ranked as the 5th most obese state (Detroit News) and Detroit is ranked as the 5th most obese city in America (Forbes), which is not a joke.

Michigan is ranked as the 5th most obese state and Detroit is ranked as the 5th most obese city in America

When I mentioned to the guys that I myself was interested in participating but had some insecurity over my fitness level, they knew just how to get me.

Thompson told me a story about a woman who had never worked out before, and weighed more than 300 pounds when she began coming to RTT. She shed 20 lbs. in her first few weeks and gained a whole new group of friends.

“Our motto is personal best,” Blanchard says.

My favorite part about RTT is that it is free! When I made mention of this, the guys, without skipping a beat, responded in unison, “You pay us in sweat.”

I was sold. The following Saturday at 9 a.m., I showed up at Youthville’s gymnasium where the guys switched up their routine to accommodate the change in season.10

I brought my cousin, who is a hockey player and studying to become a personal trainer. Not only were we welcomed with open arms from people we had never met, but we were sweating (hard) within the first 15 minutes.

Lunges, squats, kicks, blurpees and sprints. Confined to one space, as opposed to having the outdoors or access to the Joe Louis stairs, the guys had to get creative with their workout.

The exercises aren’t completely unusual – some have been pulled from P90X, as well as their own workout routines or football practice. Yet, there is one distinguishing difference: the energy.

Before we begin, everyone huddles up so Thompson, Blanchard and Harris welcome newcomers, give respect to the veterans and give a pep talk/intro.

After the pep talk the guys yell “Hard Work” and the group responds “Dedication.” Once the work out begins, it gets loud. Everyone counts the reps aloud, others yell things like “Let’s Go Coach!” People congratulate others for pushing themselves and others take a knee, without feeling the shame of not meeting the max amount of counts.

This “taking a knee” is big with RTT. They encourage the idea of “personal best” and incentivize the importance of knowing and respecting your edge but also realizing that you don’t quit and go sit on the bleachers but rather “take a knee,” a breath, a rest, and get back in it.

11The best way to describe it is that you feel like you’re a part of a football team but, it’s the nicest football team in the world.

After that first work out, my cousin was so sore she couldn’t play hockey the next day and I had to sleep with a heating pad.

Although the routine is rigorous and challenging, sweat and physical activity aren’t RTT’s main priorities. The guys are also trying to change the way our culture networks and socializes.

“We would love RTT to be the new kind of happy hour,” Harris states.

Thompson chimes in, “There are people who have gotten jobs through Run This Town.”

And without skipping a beat, Harris throws in, “There are people in this group who had never met before but are now traveling abroad together.”

The amount of traffic that RTT’s new website, networkingout.com, is getting, gives assurance to the guys that they are in fact fulfilling their mission.

The website uses social media as a way to link people together to socialize and ignite an accountability of health among the Detroit community. It is their hope to create RTT’s in each city across the United States.12

“The bond that we have is amazing,” Ralph 62, told me on my first day. He and his son, Ralph Jr. began coming to RTT in the summer.

He’s right. The vibe that RTT has created is not just positive but genuine. It’s because of the mutual aspects of the team camaraderie, as well as the intensity of the routines that I have yet to miss a workout.

RTT meets Saturday mornings at 9 a.m. and Tuesday evenings at 6 p.m. In the Youthville gymnasium, 7375 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, MI 48202.

I encourage anyone and everyone to at least try it. It’s different then anything I’ve ever experienced and for as much as I sweat each time, I find myself smiling even more.

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