If you were to drive down Dock Street on Wednesday mornings around 10, you would notice a group of people in a circle doing stretches; you might assume it was just another running group getting ready for their daily run, but this is no ordinary running group by any stretch of the imagination.
Over the years Wenche Wahl, an avid runner, would always make her favorite stop at the local Subway to grab a bite to eat. While there on one occasion, she noticed some homeless people nearby and immediately felt compelled to bring them some food and drinks.
This event wouldn’t just happen once, as Wahl would devote herself regularly to bringing food, clothes and shoes. She knew from her experience of volunteering in homeless shelters in Tacoma and New York City that these people needed to be loved and befriended.
“Most homeless I met were depressed, overweight and lacked motivation. Most had no contact with their families – they felt lonely. Often Americans are afraid of them, walk big circles around them to avoid any contact,” said Wahl.
After spending time building trust with several of the homeless people she met, Wahl asked several of them if they would be interested in being part of a safe, trusted and inspiring walking and running group.
“After getting some positive feedback my brain started to work overtime,” said Wahl.
In May of 2011 Wahl and her daughter, Christine, attended the Peace Summit in New York, where they listened to the Dalai Lama and other Nobel Peace Prize winners.
“They all had the same message – if you like to change anything or do something different, you have to do it yourself. The message was clear like a drop of water. That was my calling. I started to write all my ideas down in a notebook, and after a motivational seminar in Seattle together with Christine the following month there was no way back – Dock Street Walking and Running was ready to burst,” said Wahl.
A year later, where once only four participants gathered, now Dock Street Running and Walking has amassed 117 motivated members and found respect and support from the running community.
Mike Halpern joined the group six months ago and has become a better runner, but also has found new friendships within the group.
“When I first heard of the group, I thought that it wouldn’t be for me since I wasn’t really a runner and I didn’t even want to try. Eventually I gave it a try and I already have run 12k (Sound to Narrows 69 minutes), and I am feeling mentally and physically stronger than ever. I have learned to respect myself, which has helped me to respect other people, and that is really important. This group has helped me achieve goals that I never thought I could,” said Halpern.
When the participants show up to run, often they want more than anything to put the rough and sometimes unkind world they live in aside if only for an hour and focus on the goal: running and feeling absolutely free from worries.
Vietnam veteran Bob Jones in the past was a runner, but soon the war he fought in made life very difficult and his life changed. It wasn’t until last year that he found normalcy when he connected with the group.
“Over the year this group has made an incredible difference in my life. This group has helped me become more comfortable with myself. The runs really help me work through problems and think through things. It gives me a healthy perspective,” Jones said.
“One goal I am proud of is having run the Sound to Narrows. I had a personal best run in the 5k. I really want tell the homeless community that if you want to develop a perspective about who you are, running really helps; you should come join.”
Todd Makki’s life has had some ups and downs, but he has committed his time and effort to the club and the rewards have been fulfilling mentally and physically, he said.
“This has been the most wonderful experience I have ever had. I haven’t run in a long time, so it is really nice to get back into it. Over the past year while being in this running group I have lost around 15 pounds. I feel lighter and more confident about myself and the direction of my life. We are just a nice bunch of people and we get along with everyone, and most of all we are really a family out here. Come down and support us, anyone is welcome to join us.”
In every group that is growing there are people who step up and that is where the owner of BeHive Massage Therapy Heidi Johnson stepped up.
“Helping people gain hope as well as fitness really made me want to help. In my business I meet a lot of people that have a lot of things to offer this group. I have had people help with shoes, clothes, nutrition and helped with coaching. I just love helping this group and having the ability to build strong relationships along the way,” Johnson said.
On the one-year anniversary of Dock Street Running and Walking club, as people gathered around to sing and celebrate the event the dream and love of one woman was very clearly seen. Wahl’s goal is simple, yet very complicated – to try to change one life at a time.
“Nobody can make you happy until you're happy with yourself first,” Wahl concluded.