A new running group has started along Dock Street.
Every Wednesday for the last seven weeks, a growing group of walkers and runners gather under the I-705 interchange, and take off down a three to four-mile jaunt around Thea’s Park and back. After that, some will stick around for a quick yoga session.
Others will just carry on with their day.
The Dock Street running group welcomes upwards of 20 people to its Wednesday runs. Most of them are homeless.
Wenche Wahl, an avid runner and long-time homeless volunteer, started this group as a way to get homeless people feeling better about themselves.
Alot of time, the homeless can fall into a depressive state of inactivity and overeating at local shelters and soup kitchens.
“When you’re homeless, people just want to heap food on you,” said Jolene Wilt, a 57-year-old homeless woman who hooked up with the Dock Street runners a few weeks ago.
She heard about the group through a bulletin at Catholic Community Services, but did not learn of the group’s focus on homeless runners until her second week.
“There is nothing for me to do all day – you can either eat or drug. And I didn’t want to go run by myself,” she said. “Here you’re connecting with something positive.”
Wahl said during her time working with homeless, she has realized a common theme of people wanting to be more active, but they lack the motivation, the right shoes, or they just do not know how to get started.
“They’re already used to walking a long time, so they already have good endurance. The only thing they are usually missing is they usually have bad shoes and a heavy backpack,” she said.
So, Wahl provides the shoes – donated from her friends and family and through Gig Harbor running store Route16 – and a place to safely store their personal belongings during the run.
The group offers more than supportive shoes and a secure place to store a backpack. It provides positive personal connections, an emotional support system, and motivation to work towards a goal.
“They need to feel like a family because many of them have lost their families. When you have a running group, you are together, in a trusted group and they feel like people trust them, and care about them,” Wahl said. “After a while they start to feel inspired...like they’re worth something, and their self-esteem is rising.”
Wahl began spreading the word for the running group through her volunteer work at local homeless shelters, and on the inaugural Dock Street run June 15, four runners came out to participate.
Word began to spread about the group, and close to two months later, the number of runners continues to grow, hitting a high of 29 runners on week five.
Sherry Rudolph came down to Dock Street July 20 because she heard there would be shoes up for grabs.
She ended up sticking around for the walk, and even jogged a little bit.
“I’m really excited to be here today,” she said.
That positive energy is one of the main reasons Wahl was prompted to organize the running group.
“IfI have a bad day, I get outside and get in a run, and I start to think clearer – that’s where I get all my ideas. When I get home I’m completely relaxed.
“A lot of homeless people are usually inside, in the shelters and there’s a lot of negative feelings around them. Running keeps you motivated and thinking positive.”
As one of the newer runners to the group, Wilt said she is grateful for the opportunity to get together in a positive group and do something productive, something that can be hard to come by in the local homeless scene.
“This running group is the only opportunity I’ve ever seen like this. Wenche is like an answer to a prayer.”
Find out more on how to participate or support Dock Street Run/Walk group by going to http://dockstwalkrun.org/