DETROIT—Working out wasn’t new for Angelica Proffett.
“Networking” out is.
The 25-year-old Oakland University event planner is one of dozens of runners and walkers who have joined a new, downtown fitness group that is bringing together mainly (but not only) young professionals who socialize and exercise.
Twice a week they meet at Rivard Plaza on Detroit’s RiverWalk. There is scheduled pre-workout conversation and then an introductory, pre-workout meeting led by the three founders – Shawn Blanchard, Armond Harris and Terrence Thompson. They welcome new members and veterans – defined as someone who has already been to at least one of the Tuesday evening or Saturday morning sessions.
And then they warm up, stretch and run, jog or walk. The fastest group of runners marks 6- to 8-minute mile paces, the joggers’ stride means 8- to 10-minute miles over the roughly 3-mile routes. Walkers cover a 2-mile section of the RiverWalk and do the steps at Joe Louis Arena.
The multifactored equation of socializing and fitness makes it “networking out,” a multipurpose, fun, healthy evening.
For Proffett, a regular on elliptical machines at the gym, the personalities of Blanchard, Harris and Thompson are a big motivator to be part of the group.
“The guys, all three of them, are welcoming. They have a lot of energy and they’re passionate about the running group. I can feel that through them when I come to the group or when they’re sending out Facebook messages or tweets,” Proffett says.
What’s been the best thing for Proffett? Or things?
“Being able to meet a lot of Detroiters, professionals, who have graduated from college, who have common interests, getting to know them, new friendships,” she says. “I would not run without this group.”
Mode Shift talked about the group’s formation, impact and future with the three founders: Blanchard, 29, is a University of Michigan graduate who recently returned to Detroit from New York City, where he taught math, to attend Wayne State University.
“I was making a lot of contributions in New York and I wanted to make those same type of contributions where I’m from so I came back here,” Blanchard says.
Harris, 23, an Inkster native, is less than a year from his bachelor’s in business at WSU. A former college football player, he also was part of Dan Gilbert’s Bizdom program for young entrepreneurs and now works as a grant coordinator at Sodexo and runs a scholarship program for Inkster and Dearborn Heights students.
Thompson, 33, a native of Ypsilanti, graduated from Eastern Michigan University with a degree in political science and from WSU Law School and now works at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit.
Mode Shift: The group started when all three of you wanted to run together and get more people out. How did you put the formal group together after you launched it on social media?
Blanchard: People just came out. So that was amazing and as time progressed, more and more people that I met on Facebook came out. It kind of went from there. Those people tell these people, and these people tell those people.
Thompson: And people see us out here. One person that joined, our oldest person that comes out, she just saw us running. Now she comes out and walks the riverfront as part of our group. We still have a pretty diverse crowd. We have people that are older but we’ve had people as young as five or six [come] out with their parents.
MS: When did you start scheduling Networking Out and when do you meet?
Blanchard: We started May 8 and have been out every Tuesday since. We added a Saturday in the fifth week based on demand.
MS: Is there a difference between the Tuesday and Saturday groups?
Blanchard: It’s a different type of demand. On Tuesday, you get off work, you come right over. On Saturday, you’ve got to get up at 10, you’re coming from the suburbs and you’re here. That’s totally different type of person that’s coming to network out [on Saturday].
Thompson: About half the people come to both.
MS: How did you design the schedule?
Thompson: There [are] 20 minutes of just networking, [when] people meet one another. We make sure it’s a very warming environment. That’s why people like it.
Blanchard: We’re very warm in doing that. Nothing is forced. You can feel where people are. If you’re comfortable enough to come out here, you’re comfortable enough to be introduced to someone else. It’s very inviting and everyone that comes here is happy about that. It’s not like some random networking event [where] you get in your cubbyhole.
MS: How does that fit in to the overall philosophy of “networking out.”
Thompson: One thing we focus on is that everyone out here can accomplish their personal goals. And another thing that we do encourage is not only do you go out and accomplish your personal goals but you encourage someone along the way to do what they probably don’t even think they can do. So at the end of the session we’ll ask, “How many did your personal best? And how many [people] did you help along the way?” That’s where you feel the buy in, it’s really community fitness and that’s the joy of it.
MS: What’s been the most surprising thing that’s happened here?
Thompson: The growth, the buy in. As you can see, we have merchandise and as we were starting to talk about arming our participants with T-shirts. [Members] were asking us for them so it was pretty obvious that they started to see the vision and they started the buy in.
MS: So will Networking Out or RunThisTown be a bigger non-profit organization or corporation?
Thompson: We [will be] doing both.
MS: What’s the overall vision for the group? National expansion?
Thompson: [We] don’t want to talk about that quite yet. There will be some big things happening in the next couple weeks.
MS: What fosters the group’s identity and sense of community?
Harris: I just think the welcoming environment. We come up and we shake the newcomers’ hands. We hug them. [It's] a community. [We introduce people] to one another. When we get together we also do a thing called the “member spotlight.” We bring up a member. We talk about what they do what they like what their interests are. It gets buy in and we get to know them personally.
Blanchard: All the people who are new, we say “raise your hand,” and we clap it up for them. We let people know from the outset that this is very community oriented. We lay out expectations from the beginning and then we exude that through our actions.
Harris: I see RunThisTown growing and affecting more lives. I want to see RunThisTown being a staple in the city of Detroit. People will know about this young professionals group that takes lifestyle, fitness and networking and merges them together.
RunThisTownDET meets at 6 p.m. Tuesdays and 10 a.m. Saturdays at Rivard Plaza on Detroit’s RiverWalk.