The tribe has never been about just one person. Anyone who has been to one workout or 100 workouts will tell you we are better together. It’s the November Project NYC community as a whole that makes it so special. But today, it’s about two people.
We’re talking about the two people who brought us all here in the first place. The two people who thought it was a good idea to start this thing in the dead of winter. The two people who recruited a wonderful, supportive, and kick-ass group, day after day, week after week, year after year. The two people who helped us find other weirdos just like us in the greatest city in the world.
The two people who grew this tribe from a handful to hundreds. The two people who poured their hearts and souls into our community, and who want nothing more than to see us all become stronger, faster, and nicer people. The two people who woke up the sun on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for three years and showed us New York City with new eyes. The two people who are stepping down as our co-leaders today.
Paul and John, you support us and inspire us. From Good Day New York to Good Morning America, from The New York Times to whatever that Japanese news interview you did was, the world knows you two are the best of the best. But in case you need a reminder, we got the whole #NP_NYC tribe together to write this post for you.
For so many of us, life changed on the morning we showed up to our first November Project workout. Some, like Patrick Burke and Sara Beaney, remember day one, that cold, dark, snowy morning in January, when there were just five people. Remember how we used to meet at the flagpole in those early days? Or how we’d take straight-face only photos before the workouts? Little did any of us know it would be the beginning of all of this. Three years later, after 337 workouts and countless bounces, burpees, and birthdays, we want to take a look back at our favorite mornings—created by you.
We can all agree Wednesday mornings are the bread and butter of November Project NYC. Whether we’re doing shamrock loops in the Carl Schurz Park grotto, sprinting up and down our giant stairs, laying it all on the line for PR Day around Gracie Mansion, or pushing repeats at Bridge Day on Randall’s Island, it’s always worth showing up.
But some of the most memorable moments of the past three years have happened when we made the city our playground, and explored the ins and outs of New York before the rest of it woke up. In those early hours, the city belonged to us. Sure, we’ve been kicked out of Lincoln Center, the Met, Barclays (twice), and #PowersTower ever since Matt and Candice moved to Brooklyn—but we kept coming back for more.
How about that time we actually worked out ON the Staten Island Ferry? Or when we went all the way to Flushing in our “tennis whites” (and half of us, including John, were late because we ran 10+ miles to get there on one of the most humid days of the summer)? We played leap frog in Times Square, took over Minetta Lane in the West Village (twice), powered through an epic burnout around the Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park in Washington Heights, raced the Fort Greene steps (now an #NP_Pledge location of its own!), and just recently, created a silent, ninja-style cheer tunnel in the South Street Seaport.
Who could forget that first official Summer Friday in Union Square when we did 100 leg throws on the glass-filled pavement? We’re pretty sure Chris Mosier still has scars. We loved hunting for Easter eggs down at The Battery, running the steps of the post office in the fresh snow, relay racing at the East River Park Track, playing “sharks and minnows” at Brooklyn Bridge Park, traversing the Traveling Rings in Riverside Park, and playing the biggest game of race walking freeze tag ever outside of Baruch College.
We can’t talk about our favorite workouts without talking about the ones that made us really know what being #weatherproof is all about. We grew icicles in our facial hair and eyelashes at that first Sunrise 6K in Central Park, we froze our hands (and more) at the bitterly cold Boat Basin workout of 2015, and we slipped and slid all over Grand Army Plaza at the 2016 Super Bowl workout. The title of ultimate #weatherproof workout? That will always belong to the morning of the John Massey human chain, sledding (with and without sleds) down the hills over on the west side.
You’ve shown us the city in a whole new light. But by far, the most popular vote for favorite workout goes to the times we got to share our city with the world—and welcome them with open arms. That’s right. We’re talking about the pre-New York City Marathon workouts at Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. Those mornings are absolute magic—so much energy, so many amazing humans, so many burpee burnouts. You race until you can’t breathe, and then you still go back for one more round, because like Jason Kulig proved, you might just beat Brogan if you do. The heartbeat of the tribe comes alive in that tunnel (with a little help from those “thunder sticks,” courtesy of Mary Arnold).
In three years, we’ve touched so many noses to introduce ourselves, we’ve shared our talking voices and our singing voooiiices, we’ve perfected our bird calls, and we’ve gotten “6 train close.” We’ve watched you honor so many of our amazing friends with heartfelt words before tossing them the Positivity Award. We’ve taken these friendships outside of the Monday, Wednesday, Friday routine—from NP Carols and Better Than Bedtime to Bear Mountain and too many NYRR races and NP happy hours to name—because we all genuinely like hanging out with each other.
You see, it’s not just the hoisties, compliment squats, and #fuckyeah pushups that make us come back. It’s not the Olympics, golf, telephone, March Madness, Daytona 500, or holiday themes and costumes. It’s not the boy band music, the profanity-laden Southern rap, or the Jock Jams. It’s the simple, magical moments you’ve created that we’ll never forget. Like the time we all spontaneously started singing Celine Dion’s “That’s the Way It Is” after PR Day. You couldn’t recreate that if you tried. (And we tried. It was awkward.) Bottom line: You guys are the reason this thing works.
Trying to describe Paul Leak is like walking past Taqueria Diana without going in for a burrito. It’s like doing a single-legged burpee when you’re stuck in a boot with a stress fracture. It’s really fucking hard.
That’s because the creature known as #Paulleak can be a mysterious and multifaceted one. When you first meet Paul, you might meet a walking beard, outfitted head-to-toe in The North Face, with his eccentric, offbeat, flavor-of-the-week accessories. You might meet a ball of pure energy and intense hype, wired on early morning wake-up calls and fueled by outrageous bounces. You might meet an intimidating, sometimes cranky dude (#BadCop) who yells at us for socializing at workouts. Or you might meet a natural leader, who has passion, dedication, and intensity that spills over into everything he does. All of this and more is classic #Paulleak.
And then you get to know his heart—his soulful, sincere, generous, caring heart. You get to know the funny, friendly boy from North Carolina. You get to know his super sharp mind. How’d you think we knew today was the 337th workout? Because we asked Paul. He keeps track of everything and he knows everyone (because he used to study our yearbook photos). You get to know the adventurer, the wild spirit, and the dreamer. It’s no wonder he is a runner—he’s always on the go, always thinking of the next big thing, and always making moves to make it happen. You simply can’t tie Paul Leak down.
And can we talk about Paul as a runner? He’s one hardcore, badass, speedy, (sometimes) vegan, beautiful runner. That stride! April remembers the first time she saw him run. “It was amazing because he was injured when I joined,” she says. “And then I saw that he was fast AF.” In fact, McCombs says it’s Paul’s “smoothness and swagger” that he aspires to. (And also those short shorts.) But enough about running. Have you ever seen this dude race walk?! Those hips! OG Pete has that video saved on his phone anytime he needs a pick-me-up.
After Paul runs his own race, he’s the guy you want waiting for you at the finish line. For many of us, he has been—cheering us on by name, yelling at us to “FUCKING RUN” to the finish, and giving us a big hug when we do.
Paul has played a key role in so many special memories of the tribe. Many of us remember being recruited by Paul himself, encouraging us to “just show up,” “just get out there,” “just try it and see if you can make it work,” and, of course, the effective “you need to go, you’ll love it. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He’s captured so many unique, one-of-a-kind moments as a budding photographer, thanks to some great tips from Seb. He’s taught us the importance of “flaccid” arms while doing Coopers. He found Caitlin DiLena LOST in Central Park one morning. He shared a special solo workout with Julia Lyons, when they were the only ones to show up at a Williamsburg Bridge workout. He made Emily steal his hospital gown so he could tag it on the first official #GrassrootsGear day at the bridge. He had a spitting contest with Amrita! He cried (yes, cried!) when Lucy finished her first race in San Francisco. He gave Vernon an awesome high-five during his long run in Brooklyn. He beat Myles for a course record on the very first PR Day. He freaked out when he couldn’t figure out who was behind the initial @novemberprojectnyc Instagram account. He gave JSR the literal shirt off his back so she could take a #GrassrootsGear photo at the top of Machu Picchu. He let Ali Feller “just dance for the entire workout” at 72nd and Riverside—still a surprisingly exhausting workout. And, don’t forget, he overslept the Sunrise 6K. #WeMissedYou
Paul, you are one of the most dedicated, courageous, tenacious, inexhaustible, encouraging individuals we’ve had the honor to know. You’ve been the maestro of this crazy gang from day one and we continue to be inspired by you today. Sure, sometimes it’s just another episode of the #Paulleak show, but it’s the little moments when the spotlight isn’t on that we will cherish the most for years to come.
When asked to describe John in a single word, “coach” was the most often used. And it’s not just because it’s his nickname among the other November Project leaders or how he makes a living. It’s because he embodies the characteristics, knowledge, and support of a coach in every single thing he does. And that’s all on only a few hours of sleep since his move to Brooklyn!
Coach John is a running master. Some might even say a legend! For those who don’t know, let’s rattle off some casual stats about John. That guy who leads us in goofy calisthenics, who describes everything as “BOSS,” who wears the silliest socks, who cracks dad jokes (and isn’t even a dad yet)? That guy is an eight-time top-ten finisher at the US Track & Field National Championship. He’s a former elite runner and was a semi-finalist for the 800-meter in the 1996 Olympic Trials. He can run a sub-three-hour marathon, and is the go-to pacer for cool celebrities and athletes who want to run the New York City Marathon. And we get to train with him at November Project whenever we want. How lucky are we?
John does not shy away from anything—whether it’s a race, a dance-off, an improv class, a round of beers, or starting the tribe here in New York City. His professionalism and his positive energy are the reason we’re still here three years later. What would #NP_NYC be without his grainy Instagram posts pulled from Google Images? How we would know exactly how high to jump during the bounce? Who else would announce #WeekendEarned every Friday morning?
Our favorite NP memories with Coach—this should come as a surprise to no one—include him dancing. Not many among us can keep up with Jeanie. John can. Maybe it all goes back to those days at “running camp” together. Remember when he let LOOSE at a summer bridge day, with a completely improvised routine while we all suffered the ups and overs? Every time you crested the top of the bridge, you could see John gettin’ downright funky. Or how about when he, Feeney, Buck, and so many others turned the outdoor patio of Peggy O’Neill’s into an aggressive dance floor after the Brooklyn Half? And none of us will ever forget his bachelor party at Chelsea Piers. Before he and Caitlin tied the knot, we all got to witness this single man’s pole dancing and lap dances. It’s no wonder he and Caitlin chose Beyoncé’s “Love on Top” for the first dance at their wedding.
Speaking of, can we just take a time-out to give some love to Caitlin? Happy retirement to YOU, Caitlin! She’s the First Lady of #NP_NYC, was there on day one, and has certainly put up with her fair share of shenanigans that come with the territory of dating, getting engaged to, and marrying an NP co-leader.
We can’t blame her for sticking by John’s side though. Because, c’mon, look at him. To say John is handsome is an understatement. This alone may be the reason many of us first came back week after week. In fact, at his first workout, Evan Burton invited a girl he was crushing on to join him. “What I didn’t anticipate was her instantaneous crush on John,” he says. “That’s all she wanted to talk about on the run home.” The girl never returned, but Evan “could not deny the charm of this John dude and his merry band.”
And then you talk to John and you realize he’s that good looking AND that nice? He’s warm, welcoming, charismatic, and genuine in everything he says and does. (#GoodCop) And he’s humble, too. He’d never brag about these things, so we have to do it for him!
John’s joy is contagious and his spirit is always generous and uplifting. He has literally dedicated his life to encouraging others to achieve their goals. It’s no wonder we’ve picked up a few words of wisdom from him. He taught us that “the only way to get faster is to run faster.” See? He’s funny, too! He taught Joellen the importance of keeping “elbows back” to stand a little straighter and run a little faster. When Gary McLaughlin showed up and tried to shake hands, John gave him a big hug and taught him, “We don’t shake hands, we hug here.” He taught Jeff the secret weapon to getting through Williamsburg Bridge repeats in the rain: sing “Tomorrow” from Annie until the sun actually comes out. And, of course, he taught us that sledding in Prospect Park can be an adult-only BYOB activity.
John, you are our rock, our dad, our mentor, and our coach. We’re going to miss how you enunciate every syllable when you shout, “Are you all good?” at the bounce. We’re going to miss how you constantly joke about how old you are when you’re clearly one of the most young-at-heart people we’ve ever met. And most of all, we’re going to miss your dance moves. When you’re working out with the tribe in the future, will you promise to still take some dance breaks every now and then just to entertain us?
Y’ALL GOOD? FUCK YEAH
We hope you two know how much you have touched each and every one of us. You built this and you changed our lives. In some cases, you brought us back to life. And along the way, you helped us learn so much about ourselves.
We learned to be morning people and that before, we were probably just making excuses. We learned that you can do anything if you wake up early enough—and you’ll catch the most beautiful sunrises when you do.
We learned to be more confident and that we’re stronger (and more #weatherproof) than we thought and more capable than we ever realized. We learned to push ourselves out of our comfort zones, and to keep our heads down and grind. We learned to be competitive. Liz Van Wie learned she can do push-ups. (She “wasn’t so sure” before NP.) We learned we’ve always got a kick when the tribe is cheering us on. We learned that our bodies can do a lot more that we thought they could. (But unfortunately, Lew learned he probably needs a new hip.)
We learned that pace doesn’t matter, but effort does. We learned that “you do you.” And for Laura Ann, sometimes that means squats instead of burpees. We learned it doesn’t matter if you’re slower or bigger than everyone—that pushing to improve yourself and only yourself is all that matters. We learned there will always be someone faster and stronger, but it’s not discouraging—it’s inspiring! We learned that supporting others is just as meaningful as hitting your own goals.
We learned how much we really love to run—and that there are a lot of people out there just as crazy about running as us! We learned that fast people are nice, too. And we learned you WILL get FOMO from not running races.
We learned that we love hugs just as much as we love running. Brian Hsia learned how to hug—seriously hug. We learned that deeply caring for others (and yourself) is not a weakness. We learned that people are far more accepting than you think. Mayuran learned he can talk to anyone.
We learned that positivity is infectious and can overpower almost anything. We learned to say yes. We learned how to have fun and that it’s OK to be weird, let loose, lighten up, be silly, and just enjoy yourself. Being a little crazy is good for the soul! We learned that no one really ever needs to grow up—and that when you channel your inner child, the world is a better place.
We learned that people matter more than miles. We learned that we are strong on our own, but invincible with others—that we can sprint solo, but we’d rather go far with friends. Abby learned that making friends isn’t hard or scary. We learned you’re never too old to be a part of a team, to stop exploring, or to gain a new family as an adult. We learned it is never, ever too late in life to make incredible, lifelong friendships that change you for the better. The right people will find you if you just be yourself.
Stecco learned “there’s weird, and then there’s New York weird.” We learned that NYC can be a nice place. We learned what it’s like to be part of something that’s bigger than ourselves. We learned that community is so important, and that we are the sum of the people around us. We learned you can find a place where you feel like you belong and we learned that everyone has a story. Dan Schiemel even learned he can relate to millennials!
We learned what dedication and accountability really mean. And we learned it’s the simple acts of kindness, the warmth of a hug, and the energy of a bounce that can turn a whole day around.
THE TRIBE IS STRONG
For so many of us, the tribe is home. It’s the best way to start a Wednesday (or Monday or Friday) and might even be the best thing that’s ever happened to us. It’s life-changing and life-affirming.
The tribe is always here. It’s everywhere. It’s everything. The tribe is always going to show up.
The tribe is inspiring. The tribe is unstoppable. The tribe is resilient. The tribe is badass. (“Can I say that?” Yes, Justin, you can say that.) The tribe is our happy place. It’s weird and silly, colorful and kind. It’s #notacult. It’s welcoming and inclusive. It’s motivating and supportive. The tribe is full of heart. The tribe is the shit.
The tribe is united. The tribe is the best group of people in New York City. It’s what keeps us sane in New York City. It’s the reason we don’t want to leave New York City. The tribe is fucking family.
As we all know, the tribe is growing, evolving, and changing with time. But the tribe is strong.
Paul and John, the tribe is so grateful and full of love and support for you for bringing us all together. From the coldest, darkest, snowiest days of the winter of 2014 to today, the tribe is forever yours and the tribe is going to miss you so much. And that’s the way it is.
THANK YOU FOR BEING HERE
With love, admiration, and one more FUCK YEAH for the road ahead,