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On Fitness and Community: November Project Summit 6.0 in Milwaukee

They came from 36 tribes around the world, from the United States, Canada and Europe. To run. To compete. But most of all to connect with their Milwaukee tribe and discover their best selves.

On Thursday night, September 13, 2018, their planes hit the tarmac at General Mitchell and their cars rolled up to their Airbnb’s and their Milwaukee host families. Then, to get the weekend going early, many of them karaoked at the Milwaukee Ale House, ran with Performance Running Outfitters, biked in the Underwear Bike Ride. The energy was beginning to build.

It’s the one weekend a year I can count on to be able to put down my phone and enjoy the present moment. There’s too much going on in person to need to be connected virtually. – Molly (Denver)

The next morning, at 6:26 a.m., nearly 500 gathered at the orange sculpture known as “The Calling” for a traditionally boisterous, neon-clad, pre-workout bounce and call-and-response (“Y’all good?” “Awwwwww yeah!”), then hit the stairs and the pavement in O’Donnell Park for a monumental sampling of what we from the Milwaukee tribe endure – with joy – every Wednesday throughout the year. One-hundred and fifty Milwaukee members – identified with special yellow shirts – welcomed our fitness brothers and sisters from around the world as the sun rose over the lake. We laid out our workout gear on the grass to be emblazoned with the six-fingered hand logo that announced the sixth summit of the November Project (NP) tribes and their leaders. One of our stand-by post-workout hangouts got a boom in business as a couple hundred of us filled the outdoor patio at the Lakefront Colectivo, reuniting with and meeting new friends from other tribes. The energy level had gone up a few notches.

Before coming to NP, I never thought “we all wake up early for outdoor workouts” was enough of a shared connection to build lasting friendships. Summit revealed why NP works across the world: because everyone who commits to showing up cares deeply about the positive community that it provides. – Austin (Washington, D.C.)

That afternoon, we took over Bradford Beach, trading in our sweaty workout gear for bikinis and shorts, our water bottles for cans of beer, tricep dips for games of Frisbee and planks and squats for digging in the sand with our hands and North Face mugs for an epic team sand castle contest. The unseasonably hot September sun, the vastness of Lake Michigan and the beach party camaraderie surprised our out-of-state visitors, many of whom were expecting cold and cloudy, brats and cheese, industrial Milwaukee. Shaking off the sand and sweat, the hordes set off to explore the city – Brady Street, downtown, beer halls, the Brewers game – and hopefully get enough sleep before the morning’s races. Energy level rising.

It was amazing to see all the NP Athletes in one place and soak up the good vibes. How often can you walk up to groups of strangers and ask, “Hey, where are you from?” The whole weekend was a total blast start to finish. – Jennifer (Milwaukee)

Even more tribe members met us on Saturday morning at Ottawa Lake in Dousman, 30 minutes west of Milwaukee, for the North Face Endurance Challenge Series, which includes race events in California, Utah, Massachusetts, New York and Washington, D.C. This was the second time in six years that the NP Summit had convened in the southern end of the Kettle Moraine Forest to compete with other runners from all over the world in one of seven events: 50 miles, 50K, marathon, marathon relay, half marathon, 10K and 5K. As usual, the bulk of the competitors came from our NP tribes. And, as usual, NP hyped up all the runners with a pre-race bounce, this time a thundering stomp-and-clap that audibly, much to our surprise, shook the earth. Energy level over the top.

The energy, smiles, hugs, high fives, connecting with friends new and old fed my soul. This community reminds me of the power of the human connection. The sheer weirdness, shenanigans and fun that happened at NPSummit remind me to be present and embrace each moment in daily life. – Marissa (Minneapolis)

By the time most of us got there, the 50-mile runners had already set off at 5 a.m., followed by the 50K runners at 7 a.m. The majority had created teams of four to run the marathon relay, so the 8:50 a.m. bounce was our signal to send our first runners off.  For the next six hours, until the last of the teams finished, runners crossed the finish line and passed the timing anklet to the next runner, the effects of the 80-degree sun and the hilly course (you’d crest one hill or hit the bottom of one only to find another one waiting for you) apparent on their faces and bodies. Even so, the energy level refused to dip.

I’ve been involved with NP for six years and have been lucky to watch its evolution. Coming to Summit 6.0 made me remember why this movement is so important for humankind and, personally, it re-inspired me to never stop living my best life regardless of the struggles I face living with an invisible illness. NP is my community and my family, both in Boston and afar. Without NP, I’d be a lot sicker than I am and coming to Summit 6.0 reminded me of how lucky I am to have this community and these people in my life. – Kathleen (Boston)

The applause and the screaming and the constant words support continued. My husband and teammate, for instance, ran out to meet me on my final sprint to the finish line where, as the official photos document, my face was writhing in a mixture of joy and pain. Every runner, whether it was their first or their fiftieth race, whether it took them an hour or two hours to run their leg, knew that they had the support of not only their own tribe but all the others that had come to run with them.

I experienced thousands of moments of connection – pushing each other, supporting, laughing, learning, engaging – with humans from all walks of life who are brought together by an ever-growing movement that encourages us to work hard, be our best selves and make the world a smaller and more welcoming place. – Jessie (Seattle)

The weekend would not have been complete without a Summit party, which our Milwaukee organizers pulled off with flying colors at the colorful and spacious Nomad Nacional on 5th Street. The entire restaurant, as well as the adjoining parking lot, was filled to capacity with NP love. In true Milwaukee style, the playlist was crowdsourced and the dancing hilarious, the beer was plentiful and the cornhole was competitive. The Nomad likely hadn’t seen such a lively crowd since the World Cup, but this time the fans were not rooting for one team or another – they were rooting for the one united family of this free, fun fitness movement of which I am proud to be a part.

I love that we are part of something special. That fitness is just the universal language we are using to connect, but that it’s much bigger than that. NP has changed my life for the better and, considering the number of people who will travel across the country for Summit, I don’t think I’m alone. – Matt (Milwaukee)

“November Project” was originally the name that founders Brogan Graham and Bojan Mandaric gave their attempt to stay fit during Boston’s cold winter, meeting several times a week at 6:30 a.m. for outdoor workouts. Once their first invite to others went out on social media, it was not long before their duo grew to a tribe of over 300 and they made the steep stairs of Harvard Stadium their homebase. From there, other NP tribes began forming around the country – Madison, San Francisco, Edmonton – until this past month, the NP family now boasts 49 tribes whose mission is to make the world fitter by using the city as their free gym. Their leadership summits coincide with North Face Endurance Challenges throughout North America and bring together a diversity of fitness buffs of all ages, abilities and experiences for fun, challenging weekends like the one we just had.

After this weekend, we continue to be “all good” and spread the positive energy to the world around us. Awwwwww yeah!

Summit is having family you just met. Knowing you will be accepted by at least one group know matter where you go. It’s great to be reminded of that fact at least once a year, as the world can make you forget. You’ve got to be reminded of the love every once and awhile! – Liz (Boston)

More information about the November Project story can be found online, with connections on social media, summit videos from past years in other cities, along the current activities of Milwaukee tribe.

© Photo

Austin Anderson, Zoe Finney, and Dominic Inouye

About The Author

Dominic Inouye

Teaching for over twenty years, Dominic Inouye helps students develop their unique voices. He was appointed as The Pfister Hotel Narrator, is the co-City Organizer of Jane's Walk MKE, and currently manages the ZIP MKE photo project that promotes cultural understanding.

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