Steel Force finds friendship in running

Some of the 50 members of Steel Force. “We’ve done barbecues and put together group trips to the beach, where everybody brings their family,” said member Rod Elam. ““We’ve done dinner parties. ... It makes it so much bigger than running, the relationships we’ve built.”
Some of the 50 members of Steel Force. “We’ve done barbecues and put together group trips to the beach, where everybody brings their family,” said member Rod Elam. ““We’ve done dinner parties. ... It makes it so much bigger than running, the relationships we’ve built.”
Posted: April 25, 2012

This story started on a SEPTA train, the R8, Fox Chase line.

Ernest Brown, a Philadelphia police detective, a man who lost 80 pounds as a runner, was reading a running magazine. A woman sat down next to him, and started reading over his shoulder.

“I’m going to run the Broad Street Run,” Shani Harvey told Brown. She had been a sprinter in high school, but had never run distance. “I’m looking for tips, and I don’t have anybody to run with.”

He gave her the magazine. And they began to run together.

Soon after, the engineer on the train, Rod Elam, was talking with the two of them, both regular passengers. Rod said he’d never run a step, but always went to the gym. They persuaded him to join them on a Saturday morning run.

And he was hooked.

Through word of mouth, and infectious enthusiasm, their trio has grown into to a running group of 50, almost entirely African American.

The group got so big, so happy, and so successful that they gave themselves a name, Steel Force, and a Facebook page. They see themselves as a force of strength in the city.

“It’s amazing the reaction that you get,” said Shani, 38, an office manager at Drexel University. “We’re out at 6:30 in the morning. So we see a lot of older people or working folks. And when they see 15 or 20 black people run past, we always get the same reaction: cheering, ‘Way to go,’ ‘How do I join?’ It’s always positive. Men see all these sexy ladies. There is a lot of love in Philadelphia when we run through the city.”

The runners have benefited in many ways.

“The stresses that you have in life from work and family, after two or three miles, all that goes away,” said Rod.

“We’ve done barbecues and put together group trips to the beach, where everybody brings their family,” he added. “We’ve done dinner parties at one another’s houses. ... It makes it so much bigger than running, the relationships we’ve built.”

Rod ran the Philadelphia Marathon, his first, in November.

“My younger daughter, Shelby, I reached over and grabbed her with a mile to go,” he said. “She came through the barrier, and we ran together. She’s 10. That was such a motivation. You see somebody you love and care about, you say, ‘I got to finish this.’”

“I have two daughters,” Rod added, “and when they look at me race, or at the finish line, it’s so emotional, because they see you can accomplish anything.”

For Rod and others in Steel Force, the Broad Street Run is the ultimate high.

“You get an adrenaline rush the whole way down,” said Rod. “When you get down to the stadiums, you just feel so athletic. You feel like Iverson or one of those guys.”

Members of Steel Force will start the Broad Street Run together and regroup at the finish. Then they will all go to breakfast, to celebrate their accomplishments and their friendships.

Contact Michael Vitez at 215-854-5639 or mvitez@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @michaelvitez.

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