Running — chances are you love it. Maybe it’s become so ingrained in your life that suddenly all of your friends are runners and your non-running friends have fallen by the wayside. It makes sense that runners might just fall in love with fellow runners. But still, Fleet Feet Sports-Chicagoland seems to have unparalleled matchmaking luck.
This group of running shops across the Windy City is responsible for 22 marriages and countless relationships. Back in 1996, president and CEO Dave Zimmer started a small, 1,400-square foot store with his wife, Lisa. They have since expanded to seven locations, which have served as the genesis for dozens of relationships.
“I like to think of us as the sum of our parts, “ says Zimmer. “We create social opportunities for like-minded people to meet. We have a racing team with about 300 people that meets two times per week with ages ranging from late teens through 60+. They run together and brunch together.”
And, apparently running and brunching is what it takes.
Their website has a comprehensive list of training programs and social events around running and biking. These include midday bike rides, breakfast club fun runs, ladies night fun runs and pub runs. They also partner with local workout studios and offer pop-up Pilates and barre classes in stores.
This diverse calendar encourages consistent social interaction around fun activities that seems to lead to romance. However, the Zimmers are also involved in the matchmaking themselves. “My wife introduced a couple at one of our weekly runs,” says Dave Zimmer. “We have a runner who always wore split shorts, running shoes and no shirt. One day a woman asked my wife, ‘Who is that guy who isn’t wearing a shirt? I’d like to meet him.’ Lisa acquainted them with each other and they ended up together.”
HOW CLAUDIA AND PAUL MET…
Almost 14 years ago, Claudia Becque and Paul Johnston met courtesy of the shop while volunteering at a race. “We struck up a conversation and ended up spending the remainder of the weekend together,” says Becque. Johnston was a member of Fleet Feet’s racing team and Becque participated in their fun runs. She joined the racing team with Johnston soon after — and they eventually got engaged.
Becque and Johnston even incorporated Fleet Feet into their wedding day. “After the ceremony and before the reception, we had the limo take the wedding party to the Fleet Feet store,” says Becque. “We spent time staging some photos, including the one of the wedding party in front of the shoe wall, along with a few of Paul fitting me for shoes. The store was at the center of most of what we did on a weekly basis and the ‘family’ that we developed.”
AND HOW JOHN AND TRICIA MET…
Another couple, John and Tricia Hutton, both participated in Fleet Feet’s fun runs. In 2005, Tricia joined the women-only runs (“Chicks’ Night”) then realized, being single, that she should check out the co-ed runs. Through a brief introduction at one of those runs, she met John. “While I liked him when I met him, I was very slow to pick up that he might be interested, too,” says Tricia Hutton. “I couldn’t always go on Mondays, and he’d oddly show up on the running path at the water fountain on Tuesdays when the ‘chicks’ would run. We began dating after that. We then were on Fleet Feet’s racing team together, ran races, worked races and enjoyed doing active things.” In 2007, they married and now have a son.
The store never seems to leave the runners. Hutton has been the run leader of Chicks’ Night since 2006, and she briefly worked at one of Fleet Feet’s locations, too.
“It’s more than just a store…”
Becque and Johnston moved away from Chicago six years ago, but they still have strong ties to the store. “It’s more than a store, it truly is a community — and at some level a family,” says Becque. “We still meet up with the friends we made.”
Dave Zimmer sums it up: “I believe in a simple phrase: Running changes everything. Running is a transformative experience and a lot can happen on a personal level. Seeing all these runners get married gives me and my wife a warm and tender feeling.”
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT RUN