It has been 32 years since an over-weight, chain-smoking office dweller would run before dawn because he was too embarrassed to be seen huffing and puffing around the neighbourhood.
Today that same guy has opened 118 stores selling not only the gear runners need and want, but also a healthy lifestyle including learn-to-run programs.
This ragged-breath to riches story is the tale of John Stanton, founder of The Running Room.
On his recent trip to Victoria, I caught up to the marathoner and Ironman (which was easy because he was standing still) to talk about his passion to improve the quality of people’s lives through being active.
Now a youthful 65 and a grandfather of four children aged four to seven, his focus is on the entire family.
His recently published book Running Room’s Book on Family Fitness, co-authored with education athletics consultant Don Zabloski, offers practical tips as well as motivation to get kids moving and make healthier food choices.
He marvels at the fact that one-third of children in Canada aged five to 17 are overweight or obese while playgrounds, better engineered and designed than ever before, stand empty.
Kids today are either inactive or scheduled into highly organized sports that can be downright unaffordable for a family with more than one child.
“It’s gotten to the point that if you have two kids in hockey and one is half interested you don’t encourage them because it’s so expensive,” Stanton says.
His book isn’t about convincing families to run or selling them a pricey food supplement. In fact, it’s rather common sense.
The sections on healthy eating draw from the Canada Food Guide and the activities are ‘a return to play.’ This is unstructured, active living – whether it’s bringing a ball to the neighborhood park, or walking together to the art gallery.
So why does Canada need this book?
Because sometimes we need someone to remind us of the obvious - to point us to our own backyards, beyond the tip of our noses, iPads, game consoles and color-coded calendar on the fridge.
When’s the last time you saw the kids on your street or in a park play ‘kick the can’ or ‘Red Rover’.
As Stanton points out, this doesn’t require government funding or pricey equipment that your son or daughter grows out of in six months.
“We need a return to family gathering, what’s missing today is that we are all busy, we’ve lost the social interaction as a family.”
What I like about the book is that there are practical tips and useful suggestions to help people be creative about activities, no matter what their fitness levels.
Stanton says one of the reasons his stores’ learn-to-run programs succeed is because the social, group atmosphere helps people overcome their fear of embarrassment by being with others who are also starting something new.
The same idea can work with motivating family members who might have lapsed from being active, to becoming role models for their children while having fun together.
Both start with making an effort, one step at a time.