BY DAN MCNEE
LISTOWEL – While 95 per cent of Listowelites understandably huddled in their homes with furnaces cranked up to 75 degrees throughout this seemingly unending, frigid winter, Murray Bartja, Thaddeus Homewood and Tyler Schaefer were running.
Schaefer, a 36-year-old Listowel Central School teacher, first launched his Saturday morning run group one year ago. Every Saturday at 10 a.m., Schaefer would meet his loyal band of runners at the Kin Station, and the group would set out for whatever distance each decided upon that day.
“If I didn’t know those people were going to be there, I’d probably just be staying home, having that second cup of coffee and another donut,” said Bartja of the group. “It’s really diverse in terms of age and fitness level.”
The group enjoyed a solid attendance throughout the spring, summer and fall of 2013, but as an early winter started to rear its ugly head throughout southwestern Ontario, the numbers began to quickly drop off. Pretty soon the group had been reduced to three, but out of that reduction a bond of kinship and mutual support was developed between Schaefer, Bartja and Homewood, who had never really known each other before the run group.
“Once it got cold, pretty much everyone stopped coming,” laughed Schaefer. “But the three of us kept going in some combination.”
And as the three got to know each other better, each became aware of the others’
See RUN GROUP, page 16
fitness goals. Homewood was looking to train for marathons, Schaefer was in the midst of an epic 75-pound weight loss campaign, and Bartja was just out to get off the couch and drop 10 pounds. The trio challenged each other throughout the winter, running impressive distances through all sorts of temperatures – primarily frigid ones.
Most notably, the three embarked on a 20-kilometre jaunt from Ethel to Listowel one Saturday in February, with the high a balmy -20 Celsius.
“We looked at the weather all week, wondering if we were really going to do this,” said Schaefer.
But no matter what their individual goals were when they first set out, Schaefer, Bartja and Homewood have all achieved great success.
Among others, Homewood participated in the 42.2-km 2013 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, earning a medal in his division along with his older brother, Nathaniel.
“I wasn’t athletic at all (growing up),” said Homewood, 28. “I was never on any sports teams.
“It’s nice to have a physical outlet, a sport that I can do.”
All three took part in the 2014 Re-Fridgee-Eighter Run, an 8-km event that happened to coincide with the men’s gold medal hockey game at the Sochi Winter Olympics, featuring Canada vs. Sweden. Everyone got to watch the game beforehand, only further raising the spirits of the enthusiastic runners.
The 60-year-old Bartja completed the event with his son, taking first overall in the parent/child division.
“No matter what distance you run, there’s always the want to go to the next level,” said Bartja.
Schaefer began running three years ago, and at first made it a very private affair, only running alone in secluded areas.
“When I first started out I didn’t want anyone to see me,” he said. “I would run for a single song on my iPod, at night on a path. Then I got over it.
“I’m healthier now than I was in my 20s.”
Now 75 pounds lighter and exponentially exceeding those brief solo runs three years prior, Schaefer most recently tackled North America’s oldest organized running event, Hamilton’s Around the Bay 30-km Road Race on March 30. In the teacher’s longest distance undertaking, he impressively completed the run in less than three hours.
“I would not have been able to do Around the Bay without them,” said Schaefer of his two running mates.
Now, Schaefer, Bartja and Homewood are excited for warmer temperatures and the thrill of seeing a contingent of runners already stretching it out on the grass surrounding the Kin Station as they arrive for their Saturday morning session. The trio is also looking forward to taking part in the third annual North Perth Character Run, taking place on Thursday, May 29 in Listowel.
“We’re here for ourselves, and we’re here for everybody,” said Schaefer. “In running, you do your own thing, but you also cheer on the person beside you.”
For more on the Saturday morning run group, contact Schaefer at 519-418-2601 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the 2014 North Perth Character Run, visit www.communityofcharacter.ca.