The Wannabes started out as anything but.
With a name like the that, you could assume this Ajax-based club focused on beginner runners, maybe training for their first 5K race or seeking a healthy social outlet. Yet Wayne Young says the original meaning behind the Wannabes’ name conveyed a much more ambitious goal for club members: completing a full marathon in under three hours.
Young, the club’s current leader and an employee with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, the company behind the Toronto Raptors, Maple Leafs, Toronto FC and Marlies, joined the Wannabes in 2013 to get in better shape, which he found challenging in his demanding role as part of MLSE’s Membership Services department. “MLSE started an employee workout program at the Marlies facility on the CNE grounds. The coach of the Marlies at the time, Dallas Eakins, opened the team’s dressing room for us to use,” Young says. “He was a runner, so he put together a program for me, and that’s where it kind of all started.”
Young began a basic 5K run-walk program, and soon rediscovered the athlete inside him from his younger years as a hockey and football player in high school, well before family and career commitments took hold. Young completed the program and, soon after, he signed up for a local half-marathon. His race went well, and from there, he never looked back.
“It was fun when I started running because you get that feeling back again. Once you run a race and get in better shape, you want to stay in good shape. It’s become an anchor in my life.”
Soon after, Young decided to join The Wannabes running club in Ajax. After joining the club, he was a bit shocked to discover many of the club’s members were training to run sub-three-hour marathons, which only about two per cent of all marathon race participants achieve. By 2013, when Young joined the Wannabes, though, the club had begun to focus more on enjoying running as a group, setting personal goals, and less on training for ambitious finishing times. It was also around this time that Young, drawing in part from his experience at MLSE, became inspired to rebrand the Wannabes.
“It was probably three years ago, at the Pride Run in Toronto. Myself and one of the other members noticed clubs had their own singlets with logos. With my background, we said, you know, it’d be nice to have something that stood out and said ‘we’re a club too.’ ”
Young reached out to a former colleague at MLSE who helped design and create the groups’ running gear with the original Wannabe name fused with the colours and wings of a bee. “We got some singlets made and kind of went from there, and the group started to grow once we had an identity,” Young says.
The club’s original competitive spirit still resides within the Wannabes DNA, with approximately half of the 65 members following a training program for local races, and those trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon. A total of five coaches run the club’s programs, which include two shorter runs during the week and a long run on Saturdays on the trails in Paradise Park, rising hundreds of feet above Paradise Beach below and offering stunning views of Lake Ontario.
While to this day, the club continues to grow mostly through word of mouth, the Wannabes have partnered with local-race organizers, Run Ajax, as a means to promote the club and its growth, while also giving back to the local community by volunteering at Run Ajax events. The club also holds their own racing events where they invite non-members to participate, including a recent relay race this summer, while also encouraging local businesses to get involved.
“It’s really grown, and it’s not quite about breaking times anymore,” says 37-year-old club member, Mark McDonald. “It’s about basically the Durham community coming together and kind of pushing each other into going out, exercising and being healthy and fit.’
For more information on the Wannabes, go to https://ajaxwannabes.wordpress.com/