Charles Town-based running/walking group believes fitness comes second to camaraderie
CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — Jack Hooper of Charles Town believes that Bros & Bras did more than help facilitate weight loss.
“I would say Bros & Bras saved my life,” he said. “I couldn’t put my boots on without sweating.”
Hooper, 61, is just one of the people who has been participating in walks and runs that are hosted by Bros and Bras.
The group was founded in January 2016 by Kevin Brackens of Charles Town, who has a background in fitness and sports recreation administration.
Before Bros & Bras got its name, Brackens said the group started as a “small running group that created accountability amongst friends to stay active and get active.”
He also had a personal mission to run a 5K at a comfortable pace.
“We had such a good time initially only nine were invited out, we almost doubled in size the second week that was on a Saturday morning at a coffee shop in Jefferson County,” he said. “It took off really quickly we had a good time going out for a jog or a walk and then having coffee afterward was a key component. It was like a fitness with a little bit social afterward also because everyone had experienced the same kind of workout.”
The name for the nonprofit Bros & Bras are anagrams for Brackens Running Organization (Bros) and Brackens Racing Association (Bras), which would give anyone who wanted to race a flag to run under, Brackens explained.
What started out with a Saturday morning event, has grown to where there is some type of event every single day — running, walking or social events. The volunteer-run nonprofit allowed Brackens to expand to those different events into Shepherdstown, W.Va., and in Berkeley County, W.Va. They also make a point to have fun with it including the weekly Bros & Bras Beer Run in Charles Town; a Hills and Brewskies, which starts in Shepherdstown and runs through the area and come back to a brewery; trail runs; Tuesday and Wednesday mid-morning walk when the mayor of Charles Town. All the walk/runs are free, as well as most of the social events.
“Now we have about 30 to 33 events per month, and at our peak, we had 56 events,” he said.
On Jan. 1, under Bros & Bras, a new group was formed called Jefferson Activities Group, which Brackens called “family-centric.”
“It’s less of a social component, but more focused on getting families and kids active,” he said. “As the weather warms up, we’ll see more family-oriented group outings that incorporate fitness with a little bit of social — more or less MeetUps for families.”
The popularity might have a lot to do with the approach to the group hence the group’s motto of ‘No judgment. No expectations.”
“We kept the culture of it the opposite of what running groups are,” Brackens said. “Many running groups focus on the fastest people, and who does triathlons, who does marathons and who are the winners. I personally didn’t want to take things too seriously. I wanted to do it in a more relaxed point of view, so I made ours all about the middle or the back of the pack. Yes, we get out and get active and rally around each other, and if we have success we celebrate it, but ultimately we focus on the smallest success, someone running their first mile, or someone running 3 miles or someone walking their first 100 miles. It’s more about the smaller successes and getting people active.”
That’s why he emphasizes that it’s for anyone — active runners, people who want to learn to run, walkers and everyone in between.
“People always associate walking or running groups with more fit people, but that’s not what it’s about,” he said. “We’re about anybody. That’s why our motto is ‘No judgment. No expectations.” We’re not going to judge you if you don’t show up. We’re not going to judge you if you’re a runner and you just have to walk today. That’s fine, go ahead and walk. Really, everyone shows up for the coffee, we just do a little fitness first.”
And that’s exactly why Hooper decided to join after a friend suggested he try it.
Hooper, whose Bros & Bras’ nickname is “Bro-active” did 150 events last year.
“And that’s not counting races,” he said.
That’s a long way for the self-proclaimed couch potato. He went to his first Bros & Bras event on Jan. 2, 2016, which was a Saturday morning walk/run at Black Dog Coffee.
“I showed up, I didn’t know anybody. She (my friend) didn’t even show up. There were 20 something people there,” he said. “I was welcomed with open arms. Everybody was friendly. And there were walkers there as well as runners.”
Hooper said he had played sports during his school days, but after getting married and raising a family he started packing on the pounds. And when he went through a divorce, the weight climbed even more. And after being diagnosed with oral cancer, he was depressed. But after he showed up to that first event, “I never looked back.”
In fact, he said, he did 443 days in a row where he either walked or ran with the Bros & Bras groups.
“Since I’ve started, I’ve met friends for life,” he said.
Hooper, who works for a fire protection company, said he first started walking when he joined in January, but by May he started running.
“I’ve lost 80 pounds,” he said, who said he now goes to the gym three days a week and then Bros & Bras three days a week.
“I feel great,” he said.
Weight loss is a bonus, but it’s more about the camaraderie.
“So much of it is how much fun we have about how much fun we have, not around the running and walking,” Brackens said.
What Hooper said what he enjoys the most about Bros & Bras is how accepting they are, and if you believe you’re going to hold the pack up he said don’t worry.
“If you’re a walker, someone will give up their run and walk with you,” he said. “I’ve done it several times. ... Someone will stay back. We’ll string (the runners) over a block apart, and someone in the front will turn around and run to the last person back of the line. There is nobody who is left behind.”
Top photo: Kevin Brackens, lower right corner, and runners and walkers who came out on a recent Saturday morning Bros & Bras event. With a motto of "No judgment. No expectations" the group embraces anyone regardless of athletic ability to join them for a run that ends at a coffee shop. (Submitted photo)