Running group builds male friendships and encourages community service

Every morning, men from Oak Park, River Forest, Forest Park, and occasionally communities on Chicago’s West Side, gather at dawn, rain or shine, to train.

F3 Oak Park is part of the national network of Freedom, Fellowship and Faith (F3) exercise groups. As the name suggests, the goal is not just physical fitness, but to create positive, supportive male friendships and work together to do something positive for their communities. The “faith” aspect is left to the interpretation of the members.

A group participating in the 7 am Wreck Center Bootcamp on Saturday, August 13, 2022, during one of the free peer-led F3 workouts for men outside the Ridgland Recreation Center on Lake Street in Oak Park, Illinois | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

The network was founded in 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the local group launched in 2019. While group organizers said they get physical benefits, what they enjoyed the most were the bonds they weave along the way. They also said that being in the group broadened their worldview and led them to volunteer in Oak Park and Chicago’s West Side.

Oak Park’s Josh Andersson got involved with a Chicago F3 band before deciding to form an Oak Park version in 2019. It started with six members, but that number dropped to 3 or 4 early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were observing social distancing [and other precautions], but we knew we needed the band, because brotherhood was so important,” Andersson said. “Just getting together, having social interaction was vital for the four of us. It was a highlight of my day, to be honest.

David Osta, also from Oak Park, who joined the band around late November/early December 2019, agreed.

“It was absolutely a way to stay connected and avoid social isolation,” he said. “Even though we were physically far apart, we were bonding.”

Andersson said membership in the group grew, slowly at first, then accelerated as COVID-19 vaccines became widely available. Today, the group is about 60 strong, and they’ve grown to an average of 2 workouts a day. Andersson said there are usually between 35 and 40 people per session.

Workouts are held at four locations in Oak Park – Ridgeland Common, 415 Lake St., Pilgrim Congregational Church parking lot, 460 Lake St., the south side of Lindberg Park, 1150 N. Marion St. and at the parking lot of Washington Irving School. , 1125 S. Cuyler Ave. They also train at River Forest’s Priory Park, 7354 Division St., near Forest Park’s Kribi Coffee Roastery, 7324 Madison St., and in Austin at the Columbus Park Golf Course parking lot, 5701 W. Jackson Boul. Groups usually meet at 5:30 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. on weekdays and at 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. on Saturdays.

Andersson said the exercises take place in the morning because it’s a good way to start a day and because it’s easier to convince yourself not to do them after work. Oak Parker Mrunil Champaneri, a member since July 2020, said he personally found it beneficial.

“Exercise is a great way to start several days, you get up early, you work hard and it puts you in a good frame of mind,” he said.

Champaneri also said the exercise at Columbus Park broadened his view of the world.

“I’ve been at Oak Park for 21 years and realized how isolated I was,” he said. “We live a mile from Columbus Park, which is a beautiful park, but it’s east of Austin Boulevard, and I’ve never ventured east of Austin Boulevard, it’s a bit an invisible barrier.”

The group trains virtually in all weathers, regardless of season, to encourage accountability and “broaden your mind beyond your comfort zone.”

“Even in the minus 20 cold, we bring hand warmers, we are very active, always on the move, making sure no one is standing too high.” Andersson said. “Lightning is the only reason we could cancel it. When it’s raining, the first exercise will be on the floor. We’re going to get wet anyway, so might as well start with some sit-ups.

That said, Andersson emphasized that they wanted to make sure everyone felt welcome and supported.

“We want to make this group accessible to all men, we also want to make sure that whatever your fitness level, you won’t be left behind,” he added.

Osta felt that most of the members were from Oak Park and River Forest, with a smaller portion coming from Forest Park and Riverside. Osta said the group has connected with 773 Peace Runners, an East Garfield Park running group that also does outdoor workouts, joined on occasion, and other West Siders. joined on occasion. Members agreed that this is an area in which they would like to expand.

“We had, not a ton, but a few [Austinites] join us for workouts, and I would say it’s widened my circle and my perspective on my community — it’s not just Oak Park, but the surrounding area,” Champaneri said.

The three organizers said they appreciated the friendships they had made within the group. Andersson said he was able to form deep friendships simply because the group met in the same place 4-5 times a week, saw each other struggle and supported each other, which helped form deeper bonds.

“You do push-ups with someone and you show those vulnerabilities — it really opens up friendships,” Andersson said.

Osta said when his basement flooded, he appealed for help on the band’s Slack channel – and he got a response within 45 minutes. He also said there have been many instances where the group has rallied around members in need. whether it’s delivering meals or moving furniture.

“I was definitely an amateur mover at times,” Osta said. “It’s good to take a few minutes and be of service to someone else and you know the favor will be returned to you. We help each other.”

Champaneri said this spirit of caring extends to the community. F3 Oak Park has volunteered at East Garfield Park-based Groundbreaking Urban Ministries, helping with food donation distribution and youth programs, as well as maintaining the nonprofit Men’s Center, 402 N. St. Louis Ave., and Women’s Center, 3330 W Carroll Ave., supportive housing. They also volunteered with Beyond Hunger.

Osta said they didn’t want to stop there.

“There are a lot of big organizations in the area – we want to make sure we become more visible to them, so we can reach out to them,” he said.

For more information on F3 Oak Park, visit

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