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Wednesday, August 6,2014

The running business

by Nathan Kark
Running shoes don’t do you any good sitting in your closet. Maybe an injury’s got you sidelined. Maybe you’ve tried running but you’re wasting energy because your form’s all out of whack. Not everyone’s a born runner, but one local business has positioned itself as not just a purveyor of shoes, but the starting line for people looking to transform their health through fitness.

Sure, Playmakers in Okemos is a “running store,” but it does more than just sell shoes. The 15,747-squarefoot space serves as a headquarters for local running groups, a running clinic for people new to exercise and a partner in endurance races across the state.

“The original goal was to open a store for community-minded people and help them reach their fitness goals, whether running or walking with more comfort,” said Playmakers co-owner Brian Jones. “Playmakers provides a unique experience for everyone with a lot of local flavor.”

When Curt and Judy Munson opened Playmakers in 1977, jogging was still in its infancy. As the sport exploded in the ‘80s, and with the Munsons guiding the store’s growth, Playmakers evolved from a small location at a strip mall to its current location, 2299 W. Grand River Ave., inside a former grocery store. In July 2008, Tom Keenoy, John Benedict and Jones bought into the business as well.

Playmakers staff members don’t just help customers try on shoes — they educate people on the benefits associated with better movement.

“We know our products and stand behind them so we can confidently help our customers with any fitness goal they have in mind,” said longtime Playmakers employee Alec Wombolt.

The Munsons worked with doctors to develop the Good Form movement clinic, a free series of classes to improve a runner’s gait and form.

“The clinic taught good form, but more importantly (it) explained why good form is important in avoiding injuries,” said Melissa Cupp, a local runner who attended one of the clinics. She said her instructor took video of her running and then walked her through the steps of good form running. “(Now I) run with a steady and consistent cadence with a midfoot instead of a heal strike.” She said was very satisfied in that she has been able to increase distance and improve time.

Another weekly program that Playmakers offers is the Free Injury Clinic, where physical therapists and sports medicine professionals assist in the rehabilitation of sports-related injuries.

Playmakers also offers a variety of workout groups for athletes of all interests and abilities. Runners and walkers can train for events together in Playmakers’ Any Distance, Any Pace, group. Team Triathlon provides a similar group training experience but adds swimming and biking into the training program. Additionally, Playmakers offers the Couch to 5K program, designed to transform sedentary people into racers.

“It can get just about anyone who can walk a quarter mile running a 5K race,” Jones said.

Last year, the staff of Playmakers assisted in the Run for Phil, which raised over $80,000 to rehabilitate avid runner and Cooley Law School Professor Phil Prygoski, Jones following a stroke. Playmakers also supports local races like the 8-year-old Hawk Island Triathlon, organized by Lansing City Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar. Next month she’ll push athletes a little farther with the area’s first Olympic triathlon.

"I couldnīt accomplish these races without the support of Playmakers," Dunbar said. "Their dedication to fitness is beyond admirable."

Playmakers also created the Playmakers Fitness Foundation to address community fitness needs.

“Hopefully the Foundation is a way for us to continue to build upon what we have already started,” Jones said.

Give a man a fad diet and he gets in shape for a month. Teach a man to run and he gets in shape for good. You can only sell so much running gear to people with good intentions.

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