Lifestyle » Vol. 55

Community: Any Given Wednesday: November Project invades Worcester

By Kimberly Dunbar

It’s 6:20 a.m. on a rainy Wednesday morning, and dozens of people are gathered by the Holy Cross football stadium stairs ready to run. Though you might call them crazy, they call themselves a tribe. They are some of the thousand who wake up for the November Project every week.

“Unfortunately, the stairs are a little wet, so we can’t run the stadium,” Sam Kenary, 30, one of the founders and leaders of the Worcester Tribe, announces to the group. The runners are huddled around him, not for protection from the wind, rain and cold on this raw fall morning, but because they’re huggers. “Just kidding,” he adds, as the group begins to cheer, chant and bounce together. The ritual ends with hugging.

As the group takes off, Ivan Zvonar, 25, co-leader of the tribe, hangs back to chat. “The big thing about the November Project is that we’re weatherproof, so we’re here, no matter what the weather is,” he says. Once it starts getting icy, snows or rains heavily, the tribe runs underneath the stadium or does circuits. “If it’s not possible to run in the stadium, we come up with something else.”

The November Project (NP) is a national grassroots fitness movement that started in a Boston bar. In November 2011, Bojan Mandaric and Brogan Graham, former college crewmates, came up with a way to stay fit in the winter without having to pay for it. The guys started running the stairs of Harvard Stadium, and after a few friends told their friends, Mandaric and Graham soon found themselves the leaders of what they dubbed the November Project. In just a few short years, NP has spread to 27 cities throughout the U.S. and Canada, as well as Serbia and Iceland.

“The whole idea is that it’s a free fitness group for everyone,” Zvonar explained, adding that the group is made up of individuals of all ages, from serious athletes to “people who just got off the couch for the first time.”
In addition to making you strong, the stadium ensures you’re never alone. “No matter how fast or slow you are, people are always around,” added Kenary.

The Worcester Tribe, which celebrated its first birthday in September, was started by Kenary and his brothers after seeing social media posts from NP Boston. “We thought this would be a great thing to bring to Worcester,” he said.

After filling out an application, interviewing with the founders and successfully completing an eight-week pledge process, the Woo got its tribe. “Once they saw that the Worcester community had a huge appetite for this, they were super excited,” said Kenary, adding that Zvonar was brought in when they realized that “my brothers and I were too boring to be the leaders.”

What started with seven people has ballooned to a group of 225, though not everyone shows up on every given Wednesday.  Warren Hayden, 53, has been coming since last August. “I came for a good workout, but what I realized is I came for family,” Hayden said. “The energy that’s here at NP is second to none; that’s why I keep coming back.”

Hayden added that while he’s gotten physically stronger, he’s grown in other ways as well.  “I’ve always been a positive person, but I think coming to the stairs, you become much more welcoming and open,” he said.

Angie Bean, 34, is someone who’s been affected by Hayden. ”The beauty of the group is that you don’t have to be the fittest one here, and that’s actually one of the things I enjoy the most – is that people like Warren will push you,” she said. “There is always someone who’s there to push you to get better. You don’t get that when you work out by yourself.”

Bean did not like mornings, did not like hugging, but decided to give NP a try last November. She was immediately hooked. In June, when her friend got a job in Boston and could no longer make the 6:20 a.m. workout, she decided to show up at 5:20 a.m. Now Bean is leading the early group in the bounce, in the chants and in the workouts.

“It becomes your cup of coffee,” Hayden added. “The energy that you give you’re going to get back ten times.”

“You can put it aside as a fitness group, but it’s not really doing it any justice, because it isn’t like other fitness groups,” said Zvonar. “The fitness is a part of it, but it’s really kind of a tool to build community.”

If you think NP sounds great but you’re not a morning person, join the club (literally). “I’d say 50 percent of the people here have told me that,” said Kenary. “You don’t have to be, but you’ll love mornings on Wednesdays … Just show up once. We’d love to see you.”

The group meets every Wednesday at 6:15 a.m. on the steps of Fitton Field Football Stadium at the College of the Holy Cross, 1 College St., Worcester. For more information, find November Project Worcester on Facebook.

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