Julie-Anne Staehli considers herself a fortunate runner.
The second year masters candidate at Queen’s University (Kingston, Ont.) has epitomized consistent success since leaving her hometown of Lucknow, Ont. to join the Gaels in 2012. She’s the only athlete in Queen’s program history to earn All-Canadian status five times in one sport, finishing as one of the top-14 cross-country athletes in the nation in each of her five years of U Sports (formerly CIS) eligibility. In 2013, she took home CIS individual gold.
Recently, she finished fifth at the Canadian Cross-Country Championships, securing her spot for the upcoming Pan-American Cross-country Championships in February in El Salvador. Pan Ams mark her fifth birth on a Canadian national team.
Such consistency led to a high running shoe turnover rate. By the end of her undergraduate career in 2016, Staehli had an impressive assemblage of used running shoes collecting dust in her home. She realized that others might make better use of them.
“I donated 30 pairs of shoes to QJUMP, which is an organization providing free physical activity opportunities for youth in Kingston,” she says. “I quickly realized how many pairs of shoes we could accumulate, and the impact it could have on kids in the community.”
By June 2016, this idea had become the ReRun Shoe Project. Led by Staehli and registered massage therapist Kurtis Marlow, the initiative is now a growing non-profit organization collecting lightly-used shoes from runners of the community with the goal of distributing them to less fortunate hands – and feet.
“Our goal is slightly different than that of many other charity projects,” she explains. “Often, collected goods get sent to underdeveloped countries, but our goal is to make a direct impact in our community. We value working on a local scale. I think it benefits the running community here in Kingston.”
Since the inauguration of the project, Staehli and Marlow have collected and redistributed 828 pairs of lightly-used shoes. Many of the running shoe donations go to the Boys and Girls Club of Kingston, but the project also targets local youth shelters.
Staehli feels well-situated for such a project. “We greatly benefit from living in Kingston, because it is such a running community,” she says. ReRun collected 113 donations at November’s cross nationals.
Staehli adds that the Kingston Running Room accepts shoe drop-offs and relays them to her and Marlow for distribution.
Athletics Canada helped in the creation of the ReRun Shoe Project website, and Staehli – who is a New Balance-sponsored athlete – has received a few donations from the company.
Staehli and Marlow make a good pair. They first were acquainted in 2014, when Staehli began receiving treatment at his Kingston-based clinic, Health and Focus. As a runner and a father of four, he values the promotion of a healthy lifestyle. He was eager to take on the project with her. Now, the duo’s goal is growing in breadth. Staehli says they’re entertaining the possibility of recruiting shoe collectors from other places to replicate and help jump start the project elsewhere.
“Giving back makes me feel good,” Staehli says. “I think that if you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do something for someone else, do it. It will make you feel good, and it can make a huge difference in their lives. It is the least I can do for this community.”
Much like with her involvement in the ReRun Shoe Project, Staehli sees no immediate end to her running career. She holds PBs of 4:40 in the mile (1,609m), 9:20 over 3,000m, 16:06 over 5,000m and is aiming higher. “I want to take running as far as I can,” she says. “Right now, I am coaching at Queen’s and still training under my coach Steve (Boyd), so I haven’t felt the drop-off that comes with post-collegiate running, even if I am out of U Sports eligibility. Eventually, a career might take me elsewhere, but in terms of the sport, I hope nothing changes.”
Karma is on her side.