Miami didn’t always have a running scene.
In the 1970s, John “Hans” Huseby would walk from store to store looking for the perfect pair of sneakers, but he couldn’t find a salesman to help him.
“They had no idea,” said Huseby, now 62 . “They were clueless. Running was not in fashion.”
But running was his new passion, so in 1975, he and his wife Laurie Huseby, 62, transformed the family business, a shoe store in South Miami, into a running specialty store.
“We knew that if we give our costumers the kind of attention we did when we sold the shoes we would be successful,” Hans Huseby said.
And they were. Their FootWorks store completes 40 years on May 15, and their non-profit, Team FootWorks, produced the Mercedes-Benz Corporate Run in Miami since 1985.
They also organized the runs in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. The Miami run happens at 6:45 p.m. Thursday at Bayfront Park. Some 25,000 people from 900 companies are expected to participate.
But it wasn’t always easy. The Husebys had to chase their success.
Laurie Huseby’s father, Sheldon Boehm, opened the store in 1973 to sell Earth Shoes, a new type of shoe designed by a yoga instructor to improve posture and reduce joint stress.
Earth Shoes went out of business and Boehm died in 1975.
The couple transformed the store into FootWorks, but right next to it there was a two-story general sports store, Zipp Sporting Goods. Huseby tried to make an agreement with them and sell different brands, but it didn’t work.
The general sports store put up a sign advertising all athletic shoes for one-third off.
“I went there and asked, ‘For how long are you going to have this promotion? You are hurting me,’ ” Hans Huseby said. “They said, ‘As long as we need to put you out of business.’ ”
It didn’t work.
Zipp eventually closed down, and FootWorks kept growing along with the running community.
The Husebys started a runners club in 1977 with 12 people meeting in their living room. Since then, they organized running events, and in 1994 they started Team FootWorks.
Through the nonprofit, they organize free fitness programs, including yoga classes, weekly runs, and training for full and half marathons. They estimate that about 1,000 people participate in the programs every year.
“Team FootWorks is directly responsible for building the running community,” said Josh Liebman, vice mayor of South Miami and programs director at the nonprofit. “The running community used to be FootWorks.”
In South Miami, in some ways, it still is.
Every Sunday, they set up a little cooler and give away water bottles for the runners.
“It’s part of doing something for the people that support us,” said Laurie Huseby. “It can’t just be about you. You have to be thinking of others and how we can help others.”
Cookie Thelen, 68, bought the first pair of Earth Shoes from Boehm in 1973. She witnesses the growth of the store after it became FootWorks two years later.
“They were the catalyst to an awful lot of running,” said Thelen. “They started small and have kept it up until it’s a big part of the community right now.”
While Hans Huseby stopped running and started practicing karate because of an injury 20 years ago, Laurie Huseby and Thelen still run together every week.
“I call it multitasking because it’s my social life and exercise,” said Laurie. “When you run with your girlfriends in the morning, you can solve all the world’s problems.”
Social life also attracted Marlene Seguy, 58, to the running scene.
“Just the fact of having a group interested me, plus you are getting a lot of information that as a solo you don’t know. From there I developed my friends,” said Seguy, who has been a group leader for Team FootWorks training programs for four years and is part of the committee of the UPS team in the Corporate Run this year.
She looks forward to seeing some of the people she trained crossing the finish line in any run or marathon.
“To me it’s a life-changing experience,” said Seguy. “They were able to wake up so early in the morning and they were able to accomplish something they never thought they could ever do.”
The Corporate Run is 3.1 miles. The largest team is Baptist Health with 2,400 people, and the smaller teams are around 4 people.
After the run, four first-place awards will be presented.
Yet, for this community, running is not only about winning. It’s about accomplishment.
“The one thing we like to say about the corporate run is the winners are really the people who are new to exercise,” said Laurie. “It means so much to us because we’ve seen people that the corporate run is really the first step to fitness.”
Laurie and Hans Huseby have four children, but John Peter “JP” Huseby, 37, holds the responsibility of filling the big shoes.
“A lot of times I get very stressed out because I feel that everything is on my shoulders,” said JP, general manager of FootWorks. “But it’s such a great sense of accomplishment because we have a great team. That’s one of the reasons that I love the name Team FootWorks because we are really a team.”