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P.O. Box 7345
Detroit, Michigan 48207

Shawn Blanchard

By MJ Galbraith
May 9, 2014

Shawn Blanchard is not shy about talking about his past. Born in 1982 and raised on the west side of Detroit, his father left when he was young. His mother was an addict. But instead of allowing his circumstances to dictate his future, he graduated from Mackenzie High School with honors and went on to earn a degree from the University of Michigan. Now he's a motivational speaker, a mathematics instructor at the University of Michigan, and is already writing his memoir.
Blanchard left his hometown for a while to teach underserved youth in the South Bronx, but then returned to Detroit to attend law school at Wayne State. A natural-born leader who is passionate about helping people improve their lives, it's no wonder that when Shawn and a small group of friends starting organizing runs around the city of Detroit, people followed.
What started as a small group of 30 or so people has, in just a couple years, blossomed into a group of hundreds. Blanchard and his friends Armond Harris and Terrence Thompson call it Run This Town. You can find them on the riverfront every Saturday morning, leading an inspired group of up to 500 people through a series of exercises. It's become so popular that they meet on Tuesday evenings now, too. And it's about more than just working out; it's a social event. It's about collaboration, not competition, Blanchard says.
“When you get people to engage in these activities, it enhances their lives,” he says. “Some people don't know they need something like this. They start doing it because they see it as a cool thing to do, but then it becomes a necessary part of their lives.”
The group meets at Miliken State Park in the summer on Tuesdays at 6 p.m. and Saturdays at 10 a.m. Though the group requires a significant investment of time from Blanchard and his co-founders, Run This Town remains free for all to participate. The events are diverse in age, gender, and fitness levels, and positivity abounds. The sight of so many people on the riverfront working out, as motivated as they are, is stunning.
As Blanchard, Harris, and Thompson led one event after another, they began to notice a trend. People weren’t just working out; they were also networking. As much as they were cheering each other on, people were exchanging information, e-mail addresses, and job tips. The three friends started Networkingout as a response.
“What we call 'Networkingout' is something that people have been doing for years,” Blanchard says. “They've been doing it on the golf course, on the basketball court. It's something that's always been done. We can expand on that, put a term on it, and people can engage in that networking even more.”
Networkingout is a sort of LinkedIn for fitness-minded professionals. Blanchard says it's “networking through fitness and fitness through networking.” The group is launching a phone app this summer, at which point they'll be able to lead Run This Town events in person and then continue to inspire fitness and networking online.
It's a natural development for Run This Town, a fitness program that encourages community. It's a natural development for Blanchard, too, as he continues his quest to motivate and inspire. He says he wants to see people living healthy lifestyles, both physically and financially.
“It's a place where we can enhance the lives of others,” he says. “We can get people off the couch. They can commune with one another and make their lives better.”

All photos by Doug Coombe. 

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