One Step At A Time: The Story of NuPath’s Running Club

A self-proclaimed “fitness fanatic,” Brian Provencal, the program manager of NuPath’s residential home on Meredith Road in Tewksbury, MA has taken his love for fitness and established a club of walkers and runners dedicated to improving their physical and mental health.

The NuPath Running Club, as it is so aptly named, began with a simple conversation between Brian and Residential Director, Doreen Mumper.

“Doreen and I started discussing various goals…and we got around to the topic of a running club,” he said. “It was a very interesting idea and I knew we could have some fun with it.”

“I like to ensure that my staff’s personal and professional goals meld well with improving the lives of the men and women we support when they can,” Mumper said. “I felt that Brian’s love of running could blossom into a program well beyond his personal fitness goals.”

Provencal had two residential programs in mind – Sheldon Street in Billerica and Bradley Road in Andover – when he started to assemble a group that runs at Shedd Park in Lowell every Tuesday, weather permitting.

“I wanted to start with a small group to gauge the level of interest and enthusiasm of the men and women who wanted to participate,” he said.

Leshe Abety, the Assistant Program Manager at Bradley Road, thought it would be a fun activity for his house to participate in. “The men and women here have a lot of energy,” he said. “(Program Manager Paul Lewis) and I thought it would be a great idea to have them join.”

Andy, one of Bradley Road’s residents, was the first person of the NuPath Running Club to complete a 5K race on August 22 in Lowell. (Photo: Jim Rhodes)

A few workouts went by before the word got out to several more of NuPath’s residential programs. “When the word got out, the interest was through the roof!” Provencal exclaimed. “The number of people who are part of the club tripled, basically overnight.”

Currently, the club has in upwards of 20 men and women from various residential programs in the area. Provencal takes his time in assessing the physical capabilities of each walker/runner and lets each person take things at a pace that best suits them.

“The fitness levels vary between walkers and joggers…and I want each person to be comfortable with their own pace,” he said. “We want to motivate the team, not push them beyond their limits.”

As time has gone on, Provencal has seen a noticeable improvement from when the club first began. “We have people that had trouble walking a mile when we began…now, they can jog/walk a mile, maintain their focus and not even break a sweat…their progression has been incredible.”

In fact, two members of the club, Andy and Michael, recently ran their first 5K’s as part of Lowell’s Summer Fun Run Series. Together with Brian and the support of several other NuPath staff who ran the race with them, both men ran competitive races.

Andy was first, completing the August 22 race in just over 36 minutes. Michael, who was “humming along” according to Provencal, finished with a slightly better time of 32:28 for the race run on August 29.

Melissa Packard, NuPath’s Manager of Human Resources, joined Michael and Brian for their run and was taken back by the support Michael received in his quest to finish.

Brian and Michael are ready to race in the Lowell 5K Fun Run on August 29. (Photo: Giuseppe Marraccino)

“Michael ran a great race,” she said. “It can be tough to finish a 5K, especially the first one…but Brian’s support definitely gave Michael the motivation to finish strong as well.”

When asked about how he felt, Michael had a big smile on his face and exclaimed, “I felt great…I’m the man!”

The sense of accomplishment Michael felt is just one of the many reasons that the club has been a success – it is more than just physical well-being that Brian and the club are working on. Mumper says there are the added benefits of the positive emotional changes associated with the exercise.

“They feel a sense of pride of being able to run and match Brian stride-for-stride,” she said. “Coupled with the support they get from their fellow runners at the park, they have the confidence to put forth their best effort every week.”

Provencal’s colleagues have also seen what the club has done for the residents of their respective houses.  “Brian’s group has made the men and women (at Bradley Road) physically stronger and mentally tougher,” said Lewis.

“They’ve been challenged to push themselves over any hurdles they face…and they’ve responded with growing confidence in their own abilities.”

Doug Townsend, Program Manager at Angie Road, says the enthusiasm for the Club has especially struck home with him and his guys. “I was really surprised to see our house get so involved and enthusiastic about the club,” he said. “It’s another example of learning by discovering the unknown.”

What once started out as a simple conversation between Provencal and Mumper has evolved into a movement, bringing together residents and staff alike and allowing men and women living with disabilities the ability to have expectations placed on them.

For anyone who wants to join, Provencal has a simple message.

“Each run, like every journey, begins with a single step. Lace up your shoes…and become a part of ours.”