Thanks to Portland Running Company, Willie Fit runners receive new shoes

Hillsboro’s Helvetia half-marathon will welcome a Wilsonville contingent again this year. Fifty-five young runners, along with about 15 adult mentors, are gradually but determinedly working up to the 13.1-mile run scheduled for June 7.

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: KATE HOOTS - Mariana Ignacio, standing, receives her first pair of running shoes.The runners are members of a fitness club called Willie Fit. Now in its seventh year at Wilsonville High School, the club brings together a diverse group of students and introduces them to the sport of running.

The students took a great stride March 12, when each runner received a new pair of running shoes, for free. Portland Running Company provides the shoes each year. Valued at $100 or more, the club paid a discounted price of just $50 per pair.

Proper footwear is the club’s biggest challenge — and expense — each year, according to faculty adviser Lyndi Tucker.

“Up until now, they’re wearing Vans. We’ve had kids wearing Uggs. They’re wearing whatever they have,” Tucker said.

Mariana Ignacio, a WHS junior, joined Willie Fit for the first time this year. She beamed as she showed off her new shoes.

“They will be the first professional shoes I have,” she said. “They are really good. They feel different from other shoes.”

She joined the club on a friend’s recommendation.

“She told me they give you free shoes and it’s a really good way to get exercise. It was a good way to start running,” she said.

A swimmer, she is new to running. The first few club meetings were rough for her, she said, but after three weeks, she is now ready to run 5 miles.

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: KATE HOOTS - Nick Crosby, a sophomore, shows off the shoes he received as part of his membership in Willie Fit, the WHS running club.Nick Crosby, a sophomore, is another rookie runner who joined Willie Fit on a friend’s recommendation.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s been easier than I thought. Four miles is kind of intimidating, but when you get out there, it’s not so bad.”

A non-runner previously, the shoes he received March 12 were his first running shoes.

“I have just one pair of shoes,” he said, indicating the all-purpose shoes on his feet. His new running shoes, he said, are “really comfortable.”

Crosby and Ignacio seem typical of the club’s participants. Tucker said Willie Fit participants generally come from non-athletic backgrounds and may not have participated on a team before. Completing the half-marathon, for many, will be their first experience setting and achieving a goal — and their first time feeling the sense of accomplishment and pride that comes with stretching to meet it.

With the June 7 half-marathon as their ultimate goal, Willie Fit by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: KATE HOOTS - Joe Vanny, a senior, shows his new shoes to Willie Fit adviser Lyndi Tucker.members gather three times a week to work toward goals that are both more immediate and more obtainable. Each Tuesday and Thursday, the group runs for specified lengths of time, starting with a 15-minute run out and a 15-minute run back.

On Saturdays, group members get together and run for distance together, adding 1 mile each week. This past weekend, they conquered the 5-mile mark.

“Every Saturday when we run our miles, it’s the longest we’ve ever done,” Tucker said. “I’ll say to them, ‘Have you ever run three miles? You just did.’”

With its emphasis on goal-setting and improving fitness, everyone is welcome to join, and goals can be adjusted to fit students’ realities, she added. Club members run, jog and walk.

“We have seven-minute miles and we have 16-minute miles. At first, they all think they’re runners. Then they realize they’re not. At first, they think it’s embarrassing to walk. Then they see adults are walking too and other kids,” she said.

Portland Running Company’s Dave Harkin was on hand to help students find their perfect pair of shoes. He offered encouragement and tips to students as he helped them try on various shoes.

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: KATE HOOTS - WHS junior Matt Taylor takes a new pair of running shoes out for a trial. “It’s a better fit for your foot,” Harkin told Matt Taylor after the WHS junior returned from a brief trial run in his new shoes. “Congratulations for making it back three years.”

Harkin and Portland Running Company are veteran supportors of the program. This is the company’s seventh year providing running shoes to Willie Fit members.

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: KATE HOOTS - Sophomore Jaclyn Marston tries on shoes provided by Portland Running Company March 12.“We’ve been here since the beginning,” Harkin said. “It’s such a great program. It’s not competitive. They’re not wearing a team jersey. Their accountability is only to themselves. It’s a pretty neat thing and a great life lesson.”

Harkin expressed interest in helping other school running groups.

“The schools have to have the need for it. And they also have to have the support,” he said. “We’re interested in helping all the schools develop programs like this.”

Community support is critical to Willie Fit, Tucker said. Alongside Portland Running Company, the city of Wilsonville gave the club a $2,500 opportunity grant. Oregon Road Runners donated $1,000 and Providence Health Services gave $500. The club also receives 40 free entry fees to the half-marathon, courtesy of Better Series. Discounted entry fees are available for the 15 adults who volunteer with Willie Fit. Student participants pay no fees to be in Willie Fit.

“We depend totally on community contributions, and we don’t have enough money for the year,” Tucker said. Information about the team and its needs can be found online at

For Harkin, the contributions his company makes is a worthy investment.

“There’s a few people in the education system that are putting in the effort we as parents want. They’re raising the bar,” he said. “If more people did this, the world would be better off.”

By Kate Hoots
Education reporter
503-636-1281, ext. 112
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