WestSide Stride offers exercise alternative, new way to connect in Grand Rapids

GVl / Courtesy - Westside Stride facebook

GVl / Courtesy – Westside Stride facebook

Sidney Selvig

While exercise is effective at making you healthier, it may not be everybody’s favorite pastime, especially more strenuous, competitive exercises like running a 5K. That’s where events like WestSide Stride—a community pub run/walk— comes in.

This free, recurring event, which is held every Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., is open to individuals of all fitness levels. The pub run/walk begins at Swift Printing & Communications Inc. in Grand Rapids before finishing up at different drinking locations.

WestSide Stride, which is in its third season, started in April and will continue through Nov. 1, weather permitting. Participants have access to free parking for the evening in Swift Printing’s parking lot.

The idea of a pub run/walk was first concocted in Florida by one of the group’s founders, Jes Gutowski Slaydon, who is the community relations coordinator at Swift Printing. Gutowski Slaydon started WestSide Stride with her sister, Samantha Gutowski, after they moved back to Grand Rapids after college. The goal of the organization, which is under Swift Printing, is to bring back the community that once lived on Bridge Street.

“It’s fun when you can meet new people while doing something healthy with the people here in Grand Rapids,” Gutowski said. “We wanted to collaborate and be part of something new somewhere where we have a lot of history.”

The WestSide Stride founders hope to stand apart from the many other running groups in Grand Rapids with their casual approach to fitness and their love for a better community. Whether participants run five minutes and walk the rest, or vice versa, individuals of any fitness level can join in. The group members aim to celebrate where they came from as a community and embrace the opportunity of it growing in the future.

Both Gutowski Slaydon, Gutowski and their father hope the group will serve to help revitalize the Bridge Street community, encouraing individuals to once again gather together there.

“Our whole family does it as a fun activity,” Gutowski said. “We want this to be more than just exercise. What’s significant is that it’s enjoyable.”

The founding sisters hope the pub run/walk continues to grow. Last year, as many as 50 people participated in the events.

The pub run/walk is designed to encourage a healthy lifestyle and promote connections with the Bridge Street community. The 5K course includes many sites starting on the west side of Grand Rapids and going downtown to cut across the bridge to come back to circle around six drinking locations.

These businesses, places like The Sovengard, Harmony Hall and O’Toole’s Public House, continue their specials on food and alcohol for this event to focus with the runners on celebrating the rebuilding of the neighborhood. This helps inspire the thought of keeping everything local. Some runners are walking from their houses and buying shoes from stores that are based out of Rockford, and everyone is eating at a place that gets its food from the area.

“The community and celebrating the businesses in it while doing a really great activity is very inspiring, with our main goal being to support the people in our backyard,” Gutowski Slaydon said.