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By Caitlin M. Foyt
GRAND RAPIDS – It’s difficult getting yourself motivated to exercise.
That’s why the experts often recommend a workout buddy – a friend who relies on you to show up every day, pushes you through those long-distance runs and chest lifts and keeps you company with some friendly conversation.
Members of the Grand Rapids Front Runners & Walkers have between six and 12 workout buddies, on average, to keep them going.
“We go out (running) Tuesday night and Saturday morning and afterwards those who want to can go out to eat,” said President Bill Voeterg.
But Front Runners & Walkers isn’t exclusively about being good to themselves. It’s about doing good things for other people, too.
Front Runners & Walkers is a fitness and wellness group that welcomes gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and friends and allies for running, walking and social activities. They have chapters all over the country, including several in Michigan.
The Grand Rapids Chapter boasts about 40 members. It’s a non-profit organization whose Pride 5K and Fitness Walk has contributed a total of $50,000 in proceeds to many charities over the last 14 years, including Citizens for AIDS Awareness Inc., Triangle Foundation, Gilda’s Club, Planned Parenthood of West and Northern Michigan and The Network.
The five-kilometer race and walk is the kickoff event for the West Michigan Pride Celebration in June and this year marked the 14th time Front Runners hosted the Pride 5K. The group was able to raise $4,500, which pushed them into the $50,000 range.
“We were worried with this last race, because of the economy,” Voeterg said.
“It has been pretty consistent in people who have participated because we are a small organization, but we just don’t have the number of volunteers,” he added. “We decided this is our little thing that we do and we want to support or community in different ways. We were quite pleased that we actually raised the amount.”
Members also participate in other community fundraising activities, including the annual GRACE Hunger Walk and AIDS Walk Grand Rapids.
Since the budding of the group, Grand Rapids Front Runners & Walkers has always been a non-threatening way for gays to meet more people like themselves, Voeterg explained.
Many of the group’s current and former members are people who have been married at one time. “A fair number of people decided that they were going to live authentically as gay people and they decided that they wanted to meet up with the group,” he said.
But Voeterg has seen times change over the last 15 years, which has affected the group’s ability to recruit more members.
“When the group started it was more difficult to be identified as GLBT and to be accepted by straight people. That need is really going away, and as a result it’s a challenge for us, especially to get numbers,” he said.
“Sometimes you can’t force it.”
For more information about Grand Rapids Front Runners & Walkers, visit their Web site at http://www.grfrontrunners.org.