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New York Road Runners

Polish Runners Club

Word of Mouth, Speed of Foot

This Running Town Newsletter
Fall 2007, Vol. 2, No. 4

By Tracy Ziemer

The Polish Runners Club (PRC) was founded only four years ago, but already it has established itself as one of the most competitive NYRR clubs, having won the NYRR’s men’s division B championship last year. The club’s roots can be traced to the Polish-language magazine Kecz-Up, in which Yeshnev Beshnevski placed an ad to start a running group. Four people responded, including Jakub Szymala, the PRC’s current spokesman, and the group was officially founded in August 2003 with modest ambitions: to gather for runs in Central Park on Saturday mornings.

As the club grew, so did its success. “We started to get a lot of our members toward mid-2004,” says Szymala. “People started joining from other teams, or they got word of the club through friends, or they saw us at races. Last year, once we gathered a good number of people, we actually started competing.”

Now with 60 members, the PRC is now one of 13 teams racing in the NYRR’s men’s A division and is competitive in the men’s 40+ age bracket, placing fifth last year. Also, the PRC’s Jacek Boral placed 47th overall in last year’s ING New York City Marathon with a time of 2:28:13.

The club strives to be competitive and to provide a social networking function for its runners, some of whom are second-generation Polish-Americans or new Polish immigrants. “For them, it’s a connection back to Poland and to people who like the same things they do,” says Szymala. “That can be difficult to find if they’re new here.”

Adam Kuklinski, a PRC member who emigrated from Poland in 1999, enjoys the camaraderie but also the competitive push; he often places in his age-group at NYRR races. “The club gives me extra motivation,” he says. “After a race, we get together, talk about it, and take pictures. It makes me feel part of a group, and I was missing that.”

The group isn’t just a welcome place for Polish-Americans. Several members don’t speak Polish, and some, like original member Betsy Ladner, aren’t even of Polish descent. “My friend is Polish and said this group is fun and we should join, so we did,” says Ladner, 48. “Everybody makes sure that I don’t feel excluded. They have a good sense of humor and they have fun, but they also take what they do seriously.”

Ladner is one of a handful of women on the team, and she was one of five PRC runners who traveled to race the Warsaw Marathon on September 17, 2006. Indeed, the club hasn’t limited its activities, or membership, to just New York.

“Our vision from the beginning was to start out in New York, because, outside of college and high school, it’s the greatest running scene for amateur runners,” says Szymala. “After, we wanted to move to cities where there are a lot of Polish people.” Membership has spread to Toronto and Philadelphia; Chicago and London could be next.

Until then, the New York chapter continues its runs in Central Park on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings, and will host its annual awards dinner at the end of the racing season. If the team continues its winning ways, that event should be a busy time of celebration.

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