Each of the four Runners Athletic Company storefronts in the Great Lakes Bay Region gives back to its community through efforts that begin with the feet and are rooted in the heart.
Owners Bill and Jennifer Thompson based the Runners Athletic Company enterprise on the belief that physical fitness is a worthy cause within itself. During the 1990s, Bill earned a Central Michigan University bachelor’s degree in kinesiology, and he also participated on the CMU track and field team. After he gained work experience, he ventured on his own in 2002 with the first Runners Athletic Company store in Bay City. Since then, he has added stores in Mount Pleasant, Saginaw Township, and Midland.
Some Runners Athletic Company customers are dedicated distance enthusiasts of everything from 5K events to marathons. Others of all ages jog or simply walk for basic exercise or, in some cases, for doctor-supervised physical therapy. Will Pennell, Bay City store manager, explains that in all situations, customers receive expert “gait analysis” to help determine fitness goals and the specific types of shoes that would be most beneficial for each individual.
As a child, Christina Irwin, Bay City assistant store manager, wanted to compete in sports while growing up in Reese, but her feet were always in pain. An adult visit to a Runners Athletic Company store identified her need for a specific type of running shoe. Now, she’s both a Runners Athletic Company employee and a frequent winner of adult road races. Her son and daughter, fitted in proper shoes, also both completed successful scholastic running careers.
In addition to helping every customer find the exact right fit of running shoe, the Thompsons, along with 24 employees, contribute dollars, time, and running gear to worthy causes, including breast cancer awareness, the United Way, Special Olympics, and Toys for Tots. The team also supports less familiar projects such as the MORE Foundation Group and Girls on the Run.
To provide aid for the MORE Foundation Group, Runners Athletic Company patrons place gently worn shoes in a drop box for Ghana residents who cannot afford new ones to purchase. Proceeds from the program train Ghanaian farmers on sustainable agriculture and fund the planting of trees to preserve the environment.
Girls on the Run is a national project that pairs girls, ages 8 – 13, with adult coaches and mentors. Irwin is among Runners Athletic Company employees who volunteer with the organization. She serves as a personal cheerleader for girls, encouraging them to run or jog as much as possible. “The important goals are to get to the finish line, to stay healthy, and to have fun, while also taking lessons from Girls on the Run to apply them in other parts of life,” she says. All of the young participants in the program, regardless of family income, receive discounts on running shoes at Runners Athletic Company stores.•
Photos courtesy of Runners Athletic Company