Piercys Are Visionary Wellness Entrepreneurs
By Space Coast Daily // August 25, 2013
PIERCY'S HAVE PROFOUND IMPACT ON COMMUNITY
ABOVE VIDEO: To intensify their efforts to promote health and fitness and assist charities in fundraising, Don and Denise Piercy created the Running Zone Race Management Company in 2008 and then established the Running Zone Foundation in 2009.
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – Ten years ago when they created the Running Zone, a retail store that specializes in athletic footwear, neither Don nor Denise Piercy dreamed that over the years the business would evolve to significantly impact the health and well-being of so many.
Don, 51, first met Denise, 46, through friends while going to high school in Maryland. The couple were married in 1987 and moved to Florida when Don took a job as a certified public accountant.
Denise became a nurse, working in the operating room at the Same Day Surgery Center in Melbourne and later at Cape Canaveral Hospital.
With roots firmly entrenched in Brevard County and by now the parents of a son, Tyler, and a daughter, Trisha, the couple paused when Don’s company wanted to transfer him out of state.
“It was either move to Atlanta or find something locally and we decided to stay here and open our own business,” Don Piercy said.
“We felt it was a good concept and a fit. There was nothing else like it in the area and it had a chance to succeed.”
Setting up shop in a 1,645-square-foot facility across from Brevard Community College in Melbourne, the Piercys went to great lengths to show their customers and the community that a pair of athletic shoes that fit properly could make a difference for everyone.
“When we started, we both had an interest in promoting health and fitness, but nowhere like we are now,” Denise Piercy said. “Don was a runner to stay in shape and I had taught aerobics in Melbourne, Merritt Island and Viera (Florida).”
The Running Zone prospered and within a year following the store’s inception, the Piercys stepped up and agreed to sponsor and manage an annual race series in Brevard County.
That involvement has ballooned to hosting 10 separate races and events under the Running Zone banner every year and staging 40 more for local charities, including partnering with the Space Coast Runners organization to organize and operate the grandest races of all – the annual Space Coast Marathon and Space Coast Half Marathon every November.
RUNNING ZONE FOUNDATION
To intensify their efforts to promote health and fitness and assist charities in fundraising, the Piercys first created the Running Zone Race Management Company in 2008 and then established the Running Zone Foundation in 2009.
Proceeds from Running Zone Foundation races have benefitted charities such as the American Cancer Society; the American Heart Association; Brevard Rescue Mission; Brevard School Foundation; Honor America; Melbourne Arts; The Haven; the Satellite Beach Police Fund; and the Team in Training & the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Other races have helped raise funds for the Brevard Zoo; The Fountains; Space Coast Crew; Space Coast Runners; Space Coast Triathletes; Space Coast United Soccer; Sunrunners; Indialantic Force girls soccer; and Suntree/Viera Youth Football and Cheerleading.
Race proceeds have also been donated for school cross country and track teams at Bayside High; Cocoa High; Eau Gallie High; Holy Trinity Episcopal High; Johnson Middle School; Melbourne High, Melbourne Central Catholic High; Palm Bay High; Satellite Beach High; and Viera High.
As more individuals began to run and exercise, the Piercys’ saw their business grow. The original Running Zone store expanded to another 2,400-square-foot location in the same plaza and then again in 2010 to a 4,500-square foot facility just a few doors down from there.
In 2011, the couple opened a family shoe store several doors away from the Running Zone that only features New Balance products and footwear. Running Zone also operates three retail stores inside Health First’s Pro Health & Fitness Centers on Merritt Island, Viera and Melbourne.
But at the core of everything the Piercys do is a firm commitment to helping others get out and get active, either by offering training clinics, weekly fun runs and walks or spreading the message of the value of fitness as guest speakers in school classrooms, corporate wellness programs and health fairs and at monthly club meetings across Brevard County.
“It’s rewarding to raise money for charity, but it’s even more meaningful to have folks come up to you at an event and tell you that they became motivated and got out and got moving because of you,” Denise said.
“It’s rewarding to raise money for charity, but it’s even more meaningful to have folks come up to you at an event and tell you that they became motivated and got out and got moving because of you,” Denise said. “Our hope is to get them out here and to stay active for the rest of their lives.”
“Our hope is to get them out here and to stay active for the rest of their lives.”
She said not a week goes by where somebody doesn’t come into the store and tell her about a dramatic weight loss or how much better they feel by starting a running or walking program.
“It feels really good to hear stories like that,” Denise said.
“We had one guy who came in and told us he had lost 180 pounds. You sure remember things like that.”
Of the 50 annual races they stage, none except for the Space Coast Marathon or Space Coast Half Marathon is greater than a 5K in distance. And they offer events for every skill level including fun runs, group walks and a variety of fun races for children.
One of the top Running Zone success stories is John Ouweleen, a 72-year-old retired New Jersey State Police officer living in Sebastian. After his wife died in 2005, Ouweleen was looking for something to do with his life when he stepped into the Running Zone.
“I had ordered a pair of shoes from them and went up to the store to pick them up in June 2006,” he said.
“While I was there in the store, I saw a brochure for a marathon training camp they were sponsoring in preparation for the Space Coast Marathon that fall. They gave me the name of the coach of the camp, Bernie Sher, and after talking to him, I decided to participate in the camp.”
For 16 weeks, Ouweleen trained with 30 other members of the group. Camp sessions were more than just running, and featured sessions at the Running Zone that provided instruction in psychology, gait and nutrition.
That fall, Ouweleen ran in his first Space Coast Marathon and placed first in his age group. It was an amazing achievement seeing as he had only run in a few 5Ks and done a little light jogging in the years prior to signing up for the camp.
Since then Ouweleen has continued to run competitively and claimed the U.S. Masters Marathon Championship last October by finishing first in his age division at the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon in Minnesota.
“I would not have accomplished what I have without the support and encouragement of Don and Denise Piercy and the Running Zone,” Ouweleen said. “I have dropped from 207 to 157 pounds and feel better than I ever have. It has changed my life and I never expected this to happen.”
THE ART OF RACE MANAGEMENT
After staging so many races over the years, the Piercys have mastered the art of race management and everything that it consists of. “It’s a lot of logistics and a lot of manual work on each race day,” Don said.
“We have everything needed for the races including our own timers and all the other equipment. But it’s very time-consuming to set it all up.”
For Denise, race days have become a ritual she describes as “load, unload” as equipment is transported to race locations, set up, and then dismantled, packed up and returned to storage to await the next race.
Steve Dietz, the director of the Viera Pro Health & Fitness Center, said he has known the Piercys for more than 20 years and believes organizational skills are at the heart of their success.
“They have the process of managing races down to a science and bring a lot of expertise in doing that to the table,” Dietz said.
“They have developed a reputation for supporting the community and striving to keep people active.”
He said it’s noteworthy that races and events the Running Zone sponsors can involve children from under the age of 5 all the way up to elite runners and people older than the age of 80.
“They help people learn the importance of exercise and being active at all ages,” Dietz said.
“Because of the races they’ve promoted, entire families are now involved in healthy activities. They have had a profound impact upon the health of our community.”
The Running Zone offers each customer a free gait analysis to determine which shoe is right for them and their proper arch before any purchase. Those visiting the store will discover information about upcoming clinics and training offered by the Running Zone, race entry fees and details, or how to sign up to receive Denise’s monthly newsletter that’s filled with inspirational stories of ordinary people who are making changes to become healthier, nutrition and training tips.
Because the Piercys have met so many athletes from the community over the years while staging events and races, Denise said sometimes people will recognize her or Don at the grocery store or other places.
“One time I heard a young girl tell her mother at the Brevard Zoo that she recognized me as that announcer lady from the race,” Denise said.
“That happens a lot.”
The Piercys take great pride that many physicians send patients to the Running Zone store for help in selecting comfortable footwear.
“Many customers here are just like our patients,” Don said.
“They come in because their feet hurt. We take the time to discuss their fitness goals and program and find out if they have recurring foot problems or an injury. Then we examine their old shoes and their foot shape.”
The Running Zone offers each customer a free gait analysis to determine which shoe is right for them and their proper arch before any purchase.
Those visiting the store will discover information about upcoming clinics and training offered by the Running Zone, race entry fees and details, or how to sign up to receive Denise’s monthly newsletter that’s filled with inspirational stories of ordinary people who are making changes to become healthier, nutrition and training tips.
“For people who are intimidated by running, we try to break down the barrier and get them on a path to an active lifestyle,” Denise said.
ENCOURAGING HEALTHIER LIVES
Both Don and Denise continue to run and work out as often as their schedule permits, with each of them logging between 30 and 40 miles a week.
But you’ll rarely see them compete in a local event as they are more comfortable in their role as race managers. When they do compete in races, it’s usually in out-of-town events where they can just blend in with the other runners and concentrate on doing their best.
As far as the future goes, the Piercys say they would like to be able to fund a public track with lights for runners in Brevard because there isn’t a facility like that on the Space Coast. And, of course, they say they want to keep on encouraging people to lead healthier lives.
“Obesity is at an all-time high and we are trying within Brevard County to reverse that trend,” Don said.
“At the core of everything, it’s really all about consistency. It’s about making a lifestyle transition and when people try it, we think they’re really going to like it. We just ask everyone to not be afraid or intimidated and to come out and give it a shot.”
Denise said she believes many people now recognize the value of exercise and physical activity, but she wants to reach even deeper to those who are not very active yet.
“I tell everyone it doesn’t matter what your time is or where you place, just that you’ve tried,” she said. “I hope to get them out there for the rest of their lives.
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