GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — Every day, often at multiple locations, and always early in the morning (except for one evening session on Thursdays), you’ll see groups of men exercising in public places with the goal of bettering themselves and other members of the session.
“I didn’t have any real, deep level friendships like I used to,” said Cory Phillips, of F3 Greensboro, reflecting on when he got involved with the workouts in 2015.
During one of the Thursday sessions, Phillips led a group of nearly 20 men through Country Park, engaging in running, lifting and core workouts.
“When you sign up to lead a workout, that’s a big day, because you have fulfilled your side of the contract, per say,” he said. “These guys show up to sharpen iron together and you don’t want to come unprepared.”
F3 – standing for fitness, fellowship and faith – was first created in Charlotte in 2006. F3 Greensboro was launched in October 2014.
“I love the comradery and the brotherhood and the friendship,” said F3 Greensboro’s Frank Goehring.
About 8 years after F3 Greensboro’s inception, in September 2022, the running world was shaken when a 34-year-old woman named Eliza Fletcher was abducted during an early morning run in Memphis, TN. Fletcher, who was a wife, mother and kindergarten teacher, was found dead behind an apartment complex days later.
In the days to come, groups gathered to run in Fletcher’s honor. In her Memphis community, more than 2,000 people signed up for an event called “Let’s Finish Liza’s Run.”
As the days since her abduction added up, however, people who regularly ran solo continued to question if they were safe without company.
“We saw an opportunity to be of service to somebody beyond ourselves,” Phillips recalled.
He took to social media platforms, with posts detailing what F3 is about, saying they would be out in parks during the early morning hours, and providing people with their schedule. The bottom line is they wanted anyone who didn’t feel safe being out by themselves to know they had their back.
“We really didn’t think twice about it, in the sense that there’s a million-and-one ways to lead in the community, to invigorate leadership throughout a community,” Phillips detailed.
It worked. Phillips says the community has acknowledged them during workouts, with more people aware of why they’re there and what they’re doing, and an increase in groups and individuals gathering where F3 members do.
“People know when they see the F3 logo, around these guys you can run, you can be safe,” Goehring said.
According to the American Journal of Men’s Health, men already had higher rates of depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation when the pandemic was in its early months. Additionally, it found men to have fewer friendships than women, and importantly, those friendships tended to be activity-based.
As the pandemic continued, Phillips said they kept seeing more men in their 30’s and 40’s joining their workouts.
“We not only noticed that people were coming out to be around us just to feel a sense of safety, a sense of community, but we also noticed that guys were starting to speak up and share what was buried deep down in here that they don’t feel often compelled to share,” he said.
As the weather continues to warm up, Phillips and other members hope the groups will continue to grow, both within their ranks, and in the surrounding community.
“Every new guy brings something new to the group,” Goehring added.