A local workout group gives back and gets fit

“Everyone can start. Just show up.”

Photo Credit: Jillian Pancini

A local workout group gives back and gets fit

Written by: Jessica Campbell
May 16, 2018


Never trust the first mile, they always say. Don’t fear the title boot camp class, they warn. But we do. When we think of athleticism, we picture skinny legs in yoga tights, toned arms, and planking without an ugly sweat. But that’s not real life, nor Jessica Halliar’s life. She turned to running when her twins were being their terrible two-year-old selves and now is dedicated to the daily run. No, she still doesn’t trust the first mile all the time, but she has learned a thing or two about fitness.

It takes sole.

Halliar is the founder of the Sole Project and the leader of the Sole Tribe. She is just another example of a woman who found something special that worked, something that she is passionate about, that she then shared with her hometown community of DeMotte, to make others as passionate as well.

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Never trust the first mile, they always say. Don’t fear the title boot camp class, they warn. But we do. When we think of athleticism, we picture skinny legs in yoga tights, toned arms, and planking without an ugly sweat. But that’s not real life, nor Jessica Halliar’s life. She turned to running when her twins were being their terrible two-year-old selves and now is dedicated to the daily run. No, she still doesn’t trust the first mile all the time, but she has learned a thing or two about fitness.

It takes sole.

Halliar is the founder of the Sole Project and the leader of the Sole Tribe. She is just another example of a woman who found something special that worked, something that she is passionate about, that she then shared with her hometown community of DeMotte, to make others as passionate as well.

The Sole Project was founded in 2017 and is a not-for-profit organization that was established to raise money for donating used or new running shoes to kids and adults in need. In just one year, Halliar collected more than 100 pairs of shoes and raised $1,000 to buy shoes and gift cards. She has since been handing out shoes to people of all ages, charities, and places such as food pantries and shelters. She is still welcoming new additions to her collection.

This year, her plan is to expand the brand even more, bringing in more money, more shoes, more miles, and more athletes. “The Sole Project was an idea that turned into something because of support,” she says.

With that support, Halliar has recruited a group of women to join her, with the intention of changing the way they look at the world of fitness and exercise. Whether a person is a five-time marathon runner, or just keeping fit, they are welcome into the Sole Tribe, where self-confidence is toned right along with muscles.

Photo Credit: Jillian Pancini
Photo Credit: Jillian Pancini
Photo Credit: Jillian Pancini
Photo Credit: Jillian Pancini

Growing up, Halliar was not attuned to seeing her parents and other adults exercise. People who did so were the “professional athletes” on television or playing in a high school sport, not something for daily fun. Even now in the rural town of DeMotte, a runner on the road is not too common. But each Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Spencer Park, working out is the new norm.

“I asked my friends, ‘Would you come to this if we started working out together? Every week? For free? And, that’s how the Sole Tribe started off,” Halliar says. “We just started working out and whoever wanted to come could come.”

Last year, Halliar led workouts for the group every Tuesday night for one hour. Each week had warm-up and cool-down jogs around either Spencer Park or Field of Dreams followed by body-weight workouts. Children were welcome and happily camped out on the playground or the grass near the park, allowing mothers a workout free of stress and hassle. By the end of the year, Halliar had a good assembly of dedicated trainees, sprinkled with new faces all the time.

Michelle Jackson is one of them. “I love being outside instead of stuck in a gym, plus Jessica is very inspirational and encouraging,” she says. “The others in the group are too. It’s nice to be part of something that is enjoyable in so many different ways.”

The only issue are those still telling Halliar they aren’t coming because their body is not the same as others. “Strength is not a weight size or a number, it is a feeling,” Halliar says. Nor does age matter, since the Tribe’s ages range from their 20s to even 60-year-olds. With music blaring, kids cheering, and the girl talk going on between each set, there is nothing to remind participants of that primary fear of exercise. “We try to make it as airy and light as possible because it is intimidating. You’re in front of these people, making yourself vulnerable, but we are all there for each other,” Halliar says. “Everyone can start. Just show up.”

Photo Credit: Jillian Pancini
Photo Credit: Jillian Pancini
Photo Credit: Jillian Pancini
Photo Credit: Jillian Pancini

April kicked off Round Two of the Sole Tribe and Sole Project. This year of Tuesday workouts will include more “soleful” women, dedicated to increasing their push-up record in addition to the number of bodies next to them. Coach Halliar too is coming back more focused, ready to turn up the heat this summer. With her own experience and advice from fellow coaches and runners, she has been designing modifiable workouts that are sweat-inducing and muscle-building, and varied enough to keep it interesting.

This year, Halliar is constructing the summer around the goal of completing the Rotary Ramble 5K Run/Walk. She spent the winter months crafting several different training plans, which are free and versatile to fit any level runner.

In addition, to represent the Sole Project’s mission, Halliar will run from Kankakee Valley High School in Jasper County to North Newton High School in Newton County on Saturday, Oct. 6. In order to raise money and awareness for the Sole Project, Halliar will donate every cent made to the schools, to help athletic departments and athletes.

She has decided to take it mile by mile, meaning that sponsors can purchase a mile for a minimum of $100. For that mile, Halliar will wear the logo of the company on her person, and will be acknowledging the company’s support on her Facebook Live stream that will be tailing her for all 33 miles. Monetary donations can be made to her GoFundMe page, which can be found on her blog, while cheers and support can be shared directly with the runners on the course.

“I wanted a way to raise money to do something for the high school athletes,” she says. “If I run school to school, then that money could go back to the school athletic departments and it is on the same premise of keeping healthy lifestyles going.’”

The Sole Project and Tribe is more than a workout. They are about the pounding heartbeats after a sprint, glistening sweat after the last squat, friendships, and the moment someone ties up their new laces for the first time. This is a group of women who found their souls, in the soles of a pair of running shoes, propelling them to become better athletes and better people.

“One of the biggest things I wanted was to just give people a shove, a start,” Halliar says. “We want to create a group of women that are confident and have all the right staples.”

THE SOLE PROJECT
News and updates about the Sole Project and the Sole Tribe workouts can be found at givesole.wordpress.com, on the Sole Project Facebook page, or @sole_project_ on Instagram.