In the 1980s, Corporate Challenge was among the first wellness initiatives companies adopted to bring employees together for fun and fitness. At the time, Denise Looker, customer care manager with Ask Children’s, was working for Roadway Express in Akron and was excited to run and represent her company at the event. Now, decades later, her reason for running has changed, but her enthusiasm for doing it remains steadfast.
“Corporate Challenge was a really big deal at Roadway and for other large employers in Akron like Goodyear, Goodrich and Children’s. We trained for events before and after work and even had uniforms,” said Denise. “I signed up to run in the 10k mixed relay and didn’t want to be the slowest team member, so I started training for my 1-mile leg. I ended up running a 6:28 mile so I was motivated to keep up with my running for the next year.”
Denise kept running and competing but, after her son was born, tennis and biking started replacing her weekly runs. She quit running altogether until 10 years ago when she found new inspiration.
“My husband, who’s a physical education teacher, started to notice a change on the scale. We’ve always been active, but it wasn’t enough so we decided to start running together,” said Denise. “We soon realized that we train differently – he runs before work and I run after work – so to keep each other motivated, we decided to sign up for a race.”
For the self-proclaimed goal-oriented Denise, she knew if she committed to a race she would be ready for it just as she did during her Corporate Challenge days.
“I know at a race people are going to be watching and I get an official time, so the thought of that really keeps me motivated when I’m training,” said Denise. “During the race, I set goals along the way to keep myself going. I look a few feet ahead and tell myself I can make it to that curb or that tree or that sign. Little victories along the way help the race not seem so overwhelming.”
For Denise, 5ks are a perfect distance to train and compete in.
“I like that it only takes me a half hour or so to get a run in and my body doesn’t feel broken after running it,” said Denise. “I run a few days a week while listening to 70s and 80s music … It reminds me of when I was young and I think it tricks my body into feeling younger, too!”
Denise and her husband run about 7 5k races a year. They choose races based on location, the cause it supports or the swag it offers runners. The two have also joined a running club and have set a long-term goal of running 5ks well into their retirement years.
“I’m inspired when I see folks who are 10 or even 20 years older than me running in these races,” said Denise. “When we retire, our goal is to run a 5k race in every state. Right now, I’m just having fun researching the races and mapping out our journey across the country.”
Denise not only draws inspiration from other runners, she gives and serves as inspiration, too.
For the past few years, she’s volunteered at the FirstEnergy Akron Marathon, Half Marathon and Team Relay to cheer on and support fellow runners. And, this year, Denise ran in the Kids Are #1 Run for the first time and snagged a 3rd place finish for her age group.
“I didn’t realize where I placed when I finished. All I knew was that I had hit my goal of a 10:30 per mile pace and didn’t have to walk…If I don’t have to stop, I feel good about my run,” she added.
With Denise’s knack of accomplishing running goals, it seems she’ll run out of states before she’ll run out of enthusiasm for running.
Interested in running, volunteering or cheering on the participants in the 2019 Akron Children’s Hospital Akron Marathon Race Series? Visit www.akronmarathon.org.