Any good Run Shop will tell you that they’re only as great as the people that work there. At the Frontrunners in Victoria, one measure of success is Joi Belyk, resident pedorthist, medical liaison, staff educator and all-around customer service star. Frontrunners co-owner Nick Walker knows that the store, not to mention the Victoria running community, is lucky to have her.
“Joi brings an incredible wealth of knowledge not only from her history with running, but her medical training and application to the sport,” Nick says. “She has been a tremendous contributor to the store by sharing her knowledge and expertise with all of our staff so that we can offer the best possible service to our customers.”
Joi began her career in running, though she didn’t yet know it yet, as a kid growing up in Leask, Saskatchewan, where she played every sport available to her. Situated on the Canadian plains, the track season in Leask was short, so it wasn’t until she started her degrees in Education and Kinesiology at the University of Saskatchewan that she took to running the 3000M with focus.
“When I got there, there was a very welcoming and open track coach who took anybody who came out and trained,” Joi recalls. “He would encourage everyone to participate and come out to the meets. It was a good environment to get started in, for sure.”
After University, Joi was teaching physical education and coaching track. No longer part of a track team, she and some friends moved to the road where they began running 10Ks, then half marathons, and Joi kept feeling that pull to go further.
“My best friend moved out to Vancouver and started training for marathons with a group out here, and he encouraged me to try it out,” Joi says. “He ended up giving me my first training program, so I trained on my own in Saskatoon and came out and ran in Richmond.”
She finished first, in her first marathon, and her career was off and running. Just a couple years later she would run her best time of 2:45:37 to finish first at the Vancouver Marathon in 1986. That career would be cut all-too short by stress fracture injuries, but it stayed sweet. Of the seven marathons she raced, she won four of them. Not that winning was ever really what drove her.
“We’re talking running in the 80s,” Joi says. “So this is before we had all the nutritionals that people run with now, or GPS watches that told us how fast we were going and all that. I wasn’t thinking I was going to win, more than I was thinking about my times. I just ran!”
With her running days behind her, Joi turned to devoting her time to helping other people run to the best of their ability. While teaching at the University of Lethbridge, Joi would moonlight at the local Run Shop where she opened a door that would eventually lead her all the way out to the west coast.
“When I first started at the store in Lethbridge, it was about the shoes, and being in an environment around running,” Joi says. “But then I found there were a lot of times I just wanted to know a little bit more to help people that had problems with their feet or problems with running, or whatever it might be.”
That led her to chip away at a pedorthics program through Western University in her last year of teaching at Lethbridge. The practicum would bring her out to Victoria where it was time to make a decision. “I needed a career change,” Joi says. “I taught for a long time, my kids had just left home. So I decided to check out Frontrunners and they had a spot for me.”
Now, at Frontrunners, Joi has found the perfect place to combine her considerable training with a connection to the running community that one can only find in a Run Shop. “I love what I do,” she says. “I believe in all the products that we carry, and the people that I work with. It’s like the conversation I have with people when they first come to work for us: it’s not just a retail job, we’re helping to keep people moving – because if your feet hurt, then life can be tough. If we can help people move, that’s all we want to do.”
And, clearly, she wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“Just today in fact, I was walking to get some coffee and I passed a sign that said the lottery was 7 million,” Joi says with a laugh. “And I thought to myself, what would I do if I won 7 million? And the first thing that crossed my mind – I wouldn’t quit my job.”
It’s hard to put a price on the perfect fit.
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