It’s all about balance. And for the Frontrunners store in Victoria, BC, that means more than finding you a shoe to cradle your foot and keep you running in a straight line. It’s part of their entire approach to business that has brought about a lot of positive change in this picturesque Vancouver Island city.
Co-partner Nick Walker literally grew up in the Frontrunners community. As a promising new runner at the age of 13, Nick was sponsored by the store in Victoria as part of its Grass Roots Athletes program. He stayed a part of that team throughout a successful running career that saw him medal at the Canadian championships and took him as far away as Ireland and Hong Kong to compete.
After graduating from the University of Victoria with a degree in microbiology, Nick did what most graduates of microbiology do – he opened a run shop! Together with Frontrunners founder Rob Reid and his good friend Mark Nelson, who also worked in the Victoria store since his teens, the three men saw an opportunity to build something that could make a difference in the growing community just across the water, in Langford, BC.
“When we opened in Langford, there was no running store, no clinics, no events,” Nick recalls. “Used to be, you’d never see a single person out there running. Now, no matter where you drive out here, there’s people running.”
Drawing from the camaraderie Nick felt from Frontrunners as a young runner, he was motivated to provide the same for others. “We saw the store as a way to get people running, to change people’s lives.”
One way that Frontrunners has been able to make a real impact is through their close ties with the medical community in Victoria. They work with local medical professionals, from doctors to physiotherapists, chiropractors to various therapy centres, to help people come back from injury or disease and into an active lifestyle.
They even keep a registered pedorthist on staff. (You’ll be forgiven if that one hangs you up. A pedorthist is a specialist in modifying footwear for support. Think orthotics.) “We’ve helped people with something as simple as plantar fasciitis, to working with the Foot and Leg Ulcer Clinic and the Arthritis Society in Victoria,” Nick says.
But for all the serious work they do, Frontrunners knows how to keep it light too. It’s evident in their social runs like the Cowichan Valley Wine Run, which makes its way through four local wineries and culminates with a 5-course dinner and live music. They do the same thing for beer lovers with the Keg Leg. “They’re not races,” Nick says. “Just a fun way for people to get out and be social.”
Of course, these runs raise money for local charities too, a big part of Nick’s business philosophy. Frontrunners has been able to give back to underprivileged youth, local food kitchens, and the InspireHealth Supportive Cancer Care, to name just a few.
The way Nick sees it, the store and its community are two parts of the same ecosystem and reliant on each other to thrive. “It’s the community that supports us by shopping with us,” Nick says. “So, it’s important to give back because they’re what keep us going. Every dollar spent in a local store comes back to the community.”