Local running club empowers women through movement
By Jordan Houston
Photo by Chris Mortenson/Staff Photographer
A local nonprofit is promoting connectivity and female empowerment through running.
The 261 Fearless Club Los Angeles, part of the larger global network 261 Fearless Inc., is a weekly running club that meets throughout Pasadena for free, one-hour activity programs, such as jogging or walking.
Every Tuesday, certified coach and 261 Fearless Club Los Angeles Director Patricia Winiecki guides the group from 2 to 3 p.m. at various locations, including the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center, 360 N. Arroyo Boulevard; the Pasadena Senior Center, 85 E. Holly Street; local parks and the Arroyo Seco Trail.
The club, which launched in 2020 at the Pasadena Senior Center, encourages senior women to tap into active lifestyles. It recently expanded to incorporate women of all abilities ages 18 and older.
“We are a social group. We support women, and our basic thrust is to empower women — to teach them leadership skills and to get them out of the house to make them feel better about themselves,” says Winiecki, a Road Runners Club of America level II certified coach.
The runners will exercise anywhere between 1.5 miles to a 5K in roughly one hour, Winiecki explains. The coach highlights the notion of “social running,” rather than for speed or distance, however.
“We do not emphasize distance, speed or anything like that,” says Winiecki, who ran the Boston Marathon in 2018. “If someone does want to learn speed or distance, I am there for them, but, basically, we all get together and just love on each other.”
New members must sign a waiver prior to joining outlining their intentions and medical status, as well as any prior exercise history. Weekly locations are posted online at the Los Angeles branch’s website ahead of the Tuesday gatherings.
The 261 Fearless Foundation’s larger mission is to promote “active” and “healthy” lifestyle choices among women of all backgrounds, according to the global network’s website. The foundation provides an educational and “welcoming, safe space for women to learn, move and have fun.” It preaches a “nonjudgmental, noncompetitive and nonperformance-based” atmosphere.
“This was set up because women feel intimidated in many countries in the world, and these women can’t run out in the open,” Winiecki says. “So it is our slogan to be fearless and free — and we are trying to make everybody feel that.”
The 261 Fearless Foundation is always in the market for potential women coaches or for those interested in establishing their own local clubs, Winiecki says.
The certified coach launched the Los Angeles Club to target an older demographic due to a high demand for coaching in that area.
“We started with seniors because it is such an underserved population,” Winiecki says. “When I became a level II coach, I found out that coaching is a career that is highly in demand. There are very few coaches out there and a niche group under that is for seniors — nobody else will do it.”
Regardless of age, movement is beneficial for women — and men — of all abilities, she says.
Winiecki says the benefits of remaining active are bountiful in the physical and mental realms of well-being.
Preventing strokes is a major plus, she says.
“There’s a lot of research (about running) helping women prevent strokes and regulating your heart and lowering your heart rate,” the coach says, dubbing strokes as “silent killers.”
“Besides the confidence and the independence, it actually has physical health (benefits), mainly for the heart and the brain. Also, the circulatory system, lungs, even your weight regulates easier without really trying to and sleep becomes better.”
Winiecki, who spent over 20 years as a librarian at the LA County Library, earned her 261 Fearless Inc. coaching certification in 2018. She was 67 at the time. Two years later, she received Road Runners Club of America certifications as levels I and II adult coach, youth coach and race director.
The marathoner also balances her time working as a commissioner on the Paramount Senior Services Commission.
Her passion for working with seniors, she says, stems from her upbringing.
“I think I’ve loved seniors all of my life because I was raised by my grandparents pretty much,” Winiecki says. “I just love seniors and the ones in my group. I’ve seen some of them pass up their canes, and it is just heart-warming pleasure. It feels like a calling, and I can’t stop.”
Although 261 Fearless is noncompetitive, Winiecki supported her gals during the 2021 Rose Bowl Turkey Trot, in which at least one member finished in the top of her age group. The coach now has plans to enter the club in the Pasadena Senior Games State Championships this summer.
The games, returning after a two-year hiatus, will feature 15 sports open to adults 50 and older in the Pasadena area in June and July. Gold, silver and bronze medals will be awarded in five-year age categories for each event.
“Even though we’re not competitive, there are some of those who want to (compete), and at that point they can join whichever race they want to and they go,” she says.
She adds that she encourages the women to set their own paces at competitions.
“We want all women to be their best.”
261 Fearless Club Los Angeles