When avid runner Josh Maxwell thought about forming a running group in Liberty County, he thought it might bring a few people together for a few events, but eventually, it would fade away.
But on Monday, Maxwell and the runners of Liberty Run Group celebrated the start of the group’s third season and welcomed a new class of beginners at the Liberty County YMCA.
“I was told by several people that you could try (forming a running group), but it’s only going to last a couple of months and then go back to nothing again,” Maxwell said, adding it’s what he expected after signing up a class of 65 potential runners two years ago that eventually dwindled down to a graduating class of 23.
But the runners who stuck with the program kept coming back. They competed in nearly every 5K between Liberty County and Savannah, earned medals and had fun. They had fun runs, beach days and wallyball games after their nightly runs. The group has run the Big Nasty Mud Run twice, will run in this weekend’s Sunbury 5K and have a few team members preparing for their second Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon this November in Savannah.
Maxwell said he is proud of the group and what they’ve been able to accomplish the past two years.
“I don’t have any kids and this is like my family … it gives me a lot of pride to see them out there and it’s like my children … and they’ve helped me too,” Maxwell said. “It’s not just what I do for them; my coaches and my team has done a lot for me. They’ve pushed me and made me a better runner. But it’s neat being the head coach of this team and seeing my coaches and my other team members that have never medaled before and seeing that light in their eyes … it’s so overwhelming to me.”
Lucrecia Spratley started running with the group about a year ago when she weighed in at 220 pounds.
Spratley said she used to watch people older than her jog around the community when she was driving around town.
“They would be jogging, and I wanted to be like them. And here I was much younger and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t even run from here to that brick,” she said, pointing to a brick wall about five feet away. “Not even for a second. I never ran before.”
Spratley soon learned about Maxwell and his group.
“When I saw this jogging group here at the Y, and I saw this young man teaching it, I was curious about it, but I didn’t have much confidence in myself,” she said. “I didn’t think I could do it. But I was determined.”
Spratley joined the group for morning and evening runs, but started jogging during the off days until she became addicted to it. It transformed her body, made her change her eating habits and gave her confidence. She said she has lost 50 pounds and, at age 40, is healthier now than at 25. She said she became a coach so that others can feel the same way.
“I feel really good about myself, so I want to help people so they can feel good about themselves as well,” she said. “Never say, ‘I can’t do it.’ Always be determined. There is something inside of you that is greater than you, and you need to pull on that strength.”
On Monday, the group welcomed new runners. Maxwell introduced the group to the current runners and coaches before leading the squad in a group stretch and 1.25-mile run. Within 15 minutes the runners made their way back to the Y, where they all stretched together and enjoyed treats, gifts and a few laughs.
“You have people cheering you on and everybody is rooting for you,” member Holly McGee said. “It’s changed my life.”
For more information on LRG, call 368-9622 or find the group page on Facebook.