When Julie Tate began a personal exercise journey in 2014, she had no idea she would end up inspiring over 100 Loudon residents to grow in their own running experiences.
After Tate had a child at 34, she began looking for ways to be more active. She downloaded a running coach application on her cellphone.
“It’s a training app for teaching yourself how to run,” Tate said. “I put that app on my phone, and I got my baby stroller, and I started going out in Loudon at the walking track by the swimming pools and using that app, and it starts out walk/run. You walk more than you jog. And in 30 days, you can run a 5K. I did it, and it was so hard, but I did it. I just fell in love with running.”
Tate figured if she could push herself to run a 5K, anyone can. She longed for a way to get a group of dedicated runners together.
In 2014, she came up with “Loudon Lacers,” a Facebook group for active people in the city.
“I grew up in Loudon,” she said. “I went to school in Loudon, and I just wanted people to know anybody can be a runner. I just had it in my mind that you had to always be a runner, you had to have a certain body type. I started the group and had a lot of friends that joined. They’d walk, run, bike. If you’re moving, you’re a Loudon Lacer.”
The group, which now boasts 116 members, is a positive place for people from all backgrounds and levels of activity.
“I just created it for inspiring and motivation and quotes and memes and people to share if they were going to be walking or running in town if anybody wanted to join up, kind of like a meeting place I guess you could say,” Tate said.
Casey MacKintosh was one of the first to join in 2015. She never considered herself a runner, but now she’s completing half marathons. MacKintosh said Tate is a “great motivator” and radiates positivity.
“It doesn’t matter how far you are, if your goal is a 5K, if your goal is a marathon,” MacKintosh said. “We see local races, we’re like, ‘Hey, check this out.’ We sign up. We meet together. We dress alike. We order shirts that are the same.”
The group doesn’t necessarily run together. Instead, members will post when they’re going on runs and invite others. Loudon Lacers can often be found meeting up for a run at Liberty Park on Saturday mornings.
“It’s not necessarily that we all run together, but we’re just very like-minded I would say,” Tate said. “We love running for different reasons. Some people are very competitive. Some people want to run races. Some people just want to be healthy. It’s just an encouragement group. We lift each other up. We cheer each other on at races. There’s a couple of hometown races that we try to get a Loudon Lacers group together to support local things like Run LoCo.”
Debi Arp moved to Loudon about six years ago. The group helped her find lifelong friends.
“I saw them running one day after I got done running, and I started looking up online as far as this particular group and became acquainted with some friends after that,” Arp said. “They invited me to come run with them on Saturday mornings because I was still working at the time and that was the one time everybody could get together to run together. I really enjoyed the emotional support plus the physical support, too. We always have a good time. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a very special time during the week.”