When Lacy Hansen was tabbed as the social media manager for the Prairie Fire running series in 2011, her first vision was a program that would become known as the “Local Joes.”
“The concept was anyone can run if they follow the proper training,” Hansen said.
So she set out to choose four everyday Wichitans, each one with a unique background, but the common thread always being that they had never trained to run in a half-marathon.
After being selected by Hansen, the Local Joes begin a training regimen to prepare for the Prairie Fire race and are encouraged to use social media, such as Twitter, to share the experience.
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It’s three years later and Hansen’s project has been a success, reinvigorating the passion for running in some and bringing it out for the first time in others.
“I’ve been so proud of everyone who has gone through the program,” Hansen said. “I know that it’s not easy. Training can become a little challenging sometimes. It’s doable, but it’s not easy.”
One of Hansen’s favorite stories came from last year in John Thompson, who has lost 205 pounds in three years after beginning to run.
After becoming addicted to running during his training as a Local Joe, Thompson has continued to train and will be running in the full marathon on Sunday.
“It sounds simple enough to hear people tell you to just get started,” Thompson said. “But really, that’s all it takes. The Local Joes program gave me the proper training and all I did was follow it.”
A coup for Hansen before this year was securing a partnership with GoRun Wichita, which agreed to donate its popular “Start2Finish” 18-week training program to the Local Joes this year.
“We want to get people to the starting line without being injured and to have a good experience,” said GoRun Wichita owner Kevin Swinicki, who said hundreds of runners have signed up for the training program. “We’re definitely all about health and wellness, so helping out the Local Joes was just a natural progression for us.”
Having a local presence in the training program, which the Local Joes have lacked in the first two years, has made a difference, Hansen said.
“That local support is the best possible thing for them,” she said. “Having the ability to go on a Saturday morning run and them being able to talk to coaches and feel the support of a group, that has made a big difference.”
This year the two Local Joes competing on Sunday are Emily Behlmann and Sean Amore, who might be Hansen’s most impressive recruiting effort to date.
“Me and Lacy are actually friends outside of running and last year I would make fun of her and the Local Joes the entire time when they were training,” Amore said. “I would send pictures of me eating dinner, just to be a jerk. I never thought I would ever do this.”
But Amore changed his mind when Hansen offered some hope after he lost his job, went through a divorce, and had to replace his car all in the last year.
Since changing his outlook on running, Amore, who entered weighing just over 300 pounds, has lost 25 pounds and has missed just one run in the four months of preparation for Sunday’s half-marathon race.
“It came along at a time when a lot of things were not going right,” Amore said. “This has really been a good thing in my life when I needed a good thing. It gave me control over something when a lot of things were happening that I didn’t have control over.”
Amore said he doesn’t expect to stop running after the race ends on Sunday.
Even if he did despise runners just a year ago, Amore is turning into one because of the program.
“I initially was just going to do the training and be done when the race was over, but it’s actually really good for me to get out and have alone time for about an hour at a time,” Amore said. “I do think I’m going to keep running after this.”
Team Dominic — His whole life, Dominic Carrillo has been confined to a wheelchair after being diagnosed with Spina Bifida, a condition that has left him paralyzed from the waist down.
Running in a marathon is impossible, but Carrillo will get the next-best thing this Sunday when a team of four runners wearing bright orange shirts emblazoned with “Team Dominic” on them will push him the 13 miles it takes to finish the half-marathon.
“We just wanted to give him an opportunity to experience the excitement of being in a race,” said Kevin Gehrer, who organized the event. “It’s designed to help build confidence and have individuals maybe reach outside of their bubble to take on challenges in life.”
Gehrer is the founder of TeamUp-KS, an organization that is looking for more participants like Dominic and sponsors like GoRun Wichita, which donated the wheelchair he will use Sunday.
“Getting the right chair for him is very important,” Gehrer said. “It’s like going in and getting fitted for the right shoe. If you have the wrong shoe on, then you’re going to be sore. We have to make sure our team captains are fitted for the right chair.”
More information can be found online at teamup-ks.org.