I am not a hugger (MKE)

I am not a hugger.

I never really have been.

If I don’t know you well, I don’t want to hug you. If I can’t say I love you, you’re probably not getting a hug.

Flash back to January 22nd, 2014 and a story I’ve told too many times. I was encouraged to check out November Project in Milwaukee by my sister Emily. She had been going to the workouts in Madison led by Dan Graham. As she described it, the workouts were the perfect combination of fun and tough. DG, the perfect combination of funny, encouraging and all around good guy. So as I stepped out of my car into the cold and dark morning that Wednesday, I didn’t know what to expect. What I got, immediately, were two hugs: one from DG and one from his fiancée, Meggie (to recap – not a hugger). What followed was the coldest, wettest, toughest workout I had ever experienced. But it was also the most fun, inspiring and rewarding 45 minutes I could remember.

As the months went on, the hugging continued. Hugs when everyone arrived, hugs when everyone left and even hugs in between. Gradually, I soon began to welcome these hugs and enjoyed wrapping fellow “tribesmen” in my arms and squeezing as hard as I could. It became part of the routine, part of my week and I grew to like the endless “two arms in, no butt out” hugs. The months turned into a year, the year into two and I continued to co-lead the Milwaukee tribe, hugs and all.

I am (still) not a hugger, but hear me out.

As I sit here today, I love my Wednesday and Friday morning hugs and couldn’t imagine my weeks without my daily dose. As I reflect on my time as a November Project co-leader, I’ve come to realize why this is true.

I love November Project. I love all of the people that have made this experience so incredibly rewarding and joyous. I have made friendships that will last my entire life time. I have laughed, sweated, yelled, smiled, and bounced with strangers who have turned into some of my best friends.

November Project is about more than just running and exercising for 45 minutes twice a week. It’s about holding yourself accountable. It’s about welcoming anyone and everyone into a community and making them feel like they’ve belonged their entire lives. It’s about encouragement, positivity, fitness and ever expanding comfort zones. It’s a release from the little struggles of everyday life. It’s about strangers turning into friends and friends turning into family. One of the best decisions I have ever made was to meet at the bottom of that icy hill at 6:26 am over two years ago. I grew my relationship with my fiancée through a mutual love for November Project. I met the best man in my wedding thanks to November Project. I am a better person, thanks to November Project.

I want to thank everyone who has made this journey so special. Thank you for pushing me outside of my comfort zone. Thank you for your warm smiles and kind hearts. Thank you for just showing up. I will always love you and I will always have a hug for you. 

As of February 26th, 2016 at 7:15 am, I am no longer a November Project Milwaukee co-leader. However, I have no doubt that November Project Milwaukee will continue to grow and become even better than ever. That’s because it’s not about me, it never has been and it never will be. It will never be about one person. It’s about every single person that shows up, rain or shine, week in and week out. It’s about the sprinters at the front of the pack, the joggers at the back and everyone in between.

So please, continue to pick each other up, make every single person feel welcome and loved and above all else, just show up in everything you do.

Thank you. A thousand times, thank you.

With love,

Ben Schwabe

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