Naples church hosts runners - Catholic Courier

Naples church hosts runners

A group of fitness enthusiasts in the Naples area recently got their 2007 New Year’s resolutions off to a running start.

Joaquin Aymerich founded the Naples Running Group on Dec. 2. Members gather each Saturday morning at St. Januarius Parish, which is part of Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Community.

“Initially I thought, ‘Well, we’ll do something the first Saturday after the New Year.’ Then I thought, ‘Why do you have to wait until the New Year to create a resolution that will make you feel better?'” Aymerich said.

December might not seem like the most advantageous month to start a running club, but interest in the group has been high from the beginning, perhaps due to December’s relatively mild weather.

“Right from the start we had about 10 to 15 people show up, and from there it started building. The word got out among some serious runners and triathletes, and they started coming over,” Aymerich said.

The Naples Running Group is not just for serious runners, however. In fact, in Our Lady of the Lakes bulletin announcements it’s usually referred to as the Walking/Jogging Club because the group is open to anyone trying to stay fit and healthy, regardless of their athletic abilities, Aymerich said.

The 25 or 30 members who arrive at the church each Saturday morning are divided into three groups according to their abilities, so there is a group for walkers, another for runners and another for people who want to walk or jog, Aymerich said. Before the meeting Aymerich develops workouts for each of the three groups, and after doing a few warm-up stretches the walkers, joggers and runners set out on the courses he’s mapped for them.

“We break them up into those categories so they can all work out at their own pace,” he said.

These courses usually take the athletes through Naples, but sometimes the workouts all take place in one spot. On Jan. 6, for example, each group conducted its own perpetual relay to help members at each level work on their speed, Aymerich said.

Participants finish their workouts back at St. Januarius Church and then meet in the church hall for coffee and bread. While the athletes are enjoying their refreshments, various members of the group often give short talks about fitness-related topics, Aymerich said.

“It’s kind of a place where we exchange information, too,” he added.

Aymerich founded the running group in part to help spread the word about the inaugural St. Januarius 5K race, which will be held on April 28. The race will start and finish near the church, and proceeds will be donated to the Naples Ambulance Service.

“It’s a way for St. Januarius to reach out to the greater community,” he said. “This really is a community event.”

Many local businesses and organizations, such as the Naples Central School District, the local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and the Naples Record, have already expressed interest in supporting the race through monetary donations or race-day volunteers, Aymerich said.

Besides raising awareness for the race, the Naples Running Group also gives a social dimension to exercise, which can sometimes be a rather solitary pursuit, said Gail Musnicki. The St. Januarius parishioner has always been physically active and eagerly joined the club as soon as she heard about it.

“I was just looking to meet some more people who were interested in staying fit. I do personal exercises every day as a lifelong habit. This just gave me an opportunity to do it with people instead of by myself,” Musnicki said.

Musnicki, who belongs to the middle group of walkers and joggers, said she likes the fact that Aymerich challenges all the athletes, regardless of their level, to work harder and achieve more than they would on their own. While the athletes are walking, jogging or running through town on Saturdays, Aymerich often will drive around to various points along the route so he can encourage them as they pass, she said.

“I think he’s very motivating for people,” agreed Liz Dormer, another St. Januarius parishioner in the Naples Running Group.

Dormer, a triathlete currently in training, said all of the group’s members are very positive and encouraging to one another.

“This is a nice group. I think anyone who came would find they could be successful. It doesn’t matter what your athletic ability is. There’s not a lot of pressure, but it’s a fun outlet for people,” Dormer said.

Several of the serious runners already have inspired some of the others who are just starting out, Aymerich said. Ron Burke, another St. Januarius parishioner, is one of these inspirational athletes. Burke and his wife were seriously injured in a car crash more than 30 years ago, and Burke broke most of the bones in his body. He recovered from his injuries and has since completed nearly 100 Olympic-distance triathlons, seven Ironman triathlons and countless road races. Although he’s suffered several more injuries in recent years, Burke continues to push himself and always do his best.

“I feel that God has given me a second life and a second chance,” he explained.


The Naples Running Group meets at St. Januarius Church, 180 N. Main St. in Naples, at 9:30 a.m. every Saturday except holidays. For more information on the group or the inaugural St. Januarius 5K race, call Joaquin Aymerich at 585/703-8652, or e-mail him at

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