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Finding refuge in Chicago running clubs: Former prisoner, mom of 4 share their stories

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 5/21/2019 By Christen A. Johnson, Chicago Tribune
a man standing in front of a sunset: A jogger runs along the lake front near North Avenue beach in Chicago on a hot and steamy Thursday morning, June 28, 2018. © Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/TNS A jogger runs along the lake front near North Avenue beach in Chicago on a hot and steamy Thursday morning, June 28, 2018.

CHICAGO — After Michael Ray was released from prison in April 2018, he stopped by a shoe store to buy a new pair of sneakers.

While there, a worker mentioned 3Run2, a local running club, and asked Ray if he’d ever thought about joining one. Ray didn’t know what a running club was, but having an athletic background, he was open to checking out the group runs on Thursday nights — despite an inner hesitancy.

“What am I going to talk about with people, because … I’ve been incarcerated,” said Ray, 32, of his thought process at the time. “To most of society, I’m dirt. I’m nothing.”

Ray said he was addicted to crack and heroin for years. He was arrested for drug possession, among other things, and made the decision to become sober early on during his prison sentence, he said.

Running clubs are a part of Chicago’s culture, and many participants find refuge within these groups. Reasons for joining are varied, like wanting to lose weight or wanting to prepare for the upcoming race season, which started Sunday in Chicago. The various health benefits go without saying, but other times, these running groups help people’s lives change holistically.

To Ray’s surprise, joining 3Run2 gave him the support system he needed to restart his life and keep it on track.

“Getting out (of prison) and being alone and by yourself, especially for a recovering addict, is the worst thing possible,” he said. “So finding a community, and knowing I got somewhere to be, it’s just been life-changing. It made me feel accepted back in society, regardless of my past.”

Michele Kerulis, a sport psychology consultant with Fishbein Performance Consulting, says athletic communities, especially running clubs, go beyond the physical and become about developing a sense of purpose and belonging.

“We don’t get the feeling of meaning in day-to-day life,” she said, “and these clubs give an outlet to express so many different things that we have in our life. They become a place to develop and play out passion. Running is the vehicle to develop that meaning.”

Beatriz Sahagun, a 46-year-old mother of four, has been a part of the Midway Mile Chasers running club for six years. Not only did she lose 75 pounds by consistently joining in on the group runs, but she also found her future business partner.

“Two years ago, (my partner and I) were practicing a run for the Bank of America marathon, and it was a hot summer July day. She wanted to do something and was ready to invest in something more, and so was I.” The pair opened a local ice-cream parlor in West Lawn in February.

Aside from becoming a business owner, Sahagun reaped internal benefits from her running group, like consistent “me” time and self-confidence.

“It’s nice to have a community to go to, and information that helps us grow,” said Sahagun. “That’s what I like about the group — it just fed me.”

Ray’s self-image also has risen since he’s been a part of 3Run2 this past year. “That was a big self-esteem builder when I was able to share about my past and it wasn’t held against me,” he said. “They didn’t shun me.”

Running has a psychological component, becoming about mind over the feelings of your body, explained Kerulis, and you can extrapolate this to everyday life. The running community offers the lesson that you can keep going in life, she said.

Those words resonate with Ray.

“I’m never left behind and never left alone,” he said. “The people in (3Run2) helped me believe in myself. I never used to goal set and never thought there would be a future for myself. But I find my power and self-esteem through running, and the people in 3Run2 have given me the confidence for my goals.”

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©2019 Chicago Tribune

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