Run for Change
BELGRADE RUNNING CLUB
Belgrade | Serbia
My story about sport begins when I was really young – says Veroljub Zmijanac, founder of Belgrade Running Club - I used to have asthma. Asthma is a chronic disease, quite common these days. I was told by doctors that I shouldn’t be running or doing sports. Thankfully, my father disregarded their advice, and I was doing karate and football in my free time. I finished high school, did my finals in psychology and philosophy and then I decided to study for what was supposed to be the most profitable career: IT and software engineering. It was in the 90s, when the first democratic prime minister of Serbia, Mr Zoran Đinđić was assassinated. His wife decided to create a foundation in his name. Its mission was to send young people abroad to collect knowledge, experience and come back to use it to improve and enrich Serbia. I went to Germany, worked at Robert BOSCH GmbH as an intern and it was super exciting. There I started to run and I saw how lives were different. I met a guy who really inspired me, he was a 44 year old high school professor. He was a vegetarian, who had a “less is more” food philosophy, it was all about the quality. He was always into biking, going to the gym, running. He showed me that people can have a happy, healthy life even in their 50s, which was not the case in Serbia at that time. I got really inspired to adopt this active lifestyle, and bring it back to my country.
Everything started with a website about running. There was no interest in recreational running in Serbia at the time. When Veroljub organized his first group run in 2009 only seven people showed up. More and more people joined the runs with time, and despite the skeptical feedback, he managed to open the first Running Club in Serbia.
Seven years later, we have 5-6 clubs with 20-30 running groups around Serbia, more than 300 active members. We have the biggest website about running, with 150.000 monthly visitors. We made running a new trend. These days everybody runs. We made a dozen of various running projects and events, some of them just for fun. Such was the Belgrade Underpants Run, which gathered around 30 people who ran a 1 km race in underwear during a cold, snowy day.
Most of our work is about supporting people who want to become active after 10 or 20 years of sedentary life. With professional expertise we prepare everyone - office workers, moms and dads, CEOs, students, young professionals to run their first half-marathon. The name of the project is “Running School”, and it’s a 6-month outdoor group fitness program, based on running. It’s our core business, but it’s also the most important thing we do, there we really help people change their lives for the better.
The change happens not only on the physical level, but also in the mind. People see that they can change their life, and achieve the goals which seemed to be unachievable. Running gets their hormones started, they get to feel much better.
More than 2000 people have gone through this program, since the beginning, 3 or 4 years ago. I remember so many beautiful stories. After the running school, one girl confided in us that before she started running her brother died, and she didn’t want to speak to anybody, she closed herself, put on weight… But then she decided to come to us and everything changed, her love of life was back. Most of our members are actually women, which we are very proud of. We had mums with 3 children, who finally made time for self-care.
Among other things they organize the Belgrade Business Run, team competition for employees, and the Harmony Run Camp, 10-day camp with all sorts of activities and good, fresh, organic food. So far their activities were located in Belgrade, but slowly they are expanding to other cities. In 2017, they plan to open Running Schools in 20 cities in Serbia.
Running is a way to wake people up. It’s not about running a 10 kilometer run – running is just a method. What’s more important is that thanks to running people feel satisfied. When I think about my kids… I want them to be satisfied with their life. With their job, health and relationships. When I became a father people told me: so now you have to come back to a normal day job. I got scared and started thinking - maybe indeed I should? But then I asked myself what really matters. I realized how much I love my job and how much I’m dedicated to making this little place on Earth called Serbia, a better place for living. I love making more opportunities for people to express themselves through running and the culture of running. I realized you can’t always be worried about the things you don’t have now or you will not have in the future. I believe that my kids will have more benefits from my own happiness and with the social changes we are catalyzing, even if I earn less than doing IT in some company.
To realize that and stick to your path, you need to see the bigger picture.
System thinking. This is crucial for anybody who wants to produce a change. It’s about recognizing the elements of the system, the relationships they are in, their dynamic, and the feedback loops of the system. The most ineffective thing you can do is to change a single element. This element will change, but the system will remain the same. You need a systematic vision. If the system can be directed to the new goal, people will see a different way, and all elements will start to change at the same time, so their relationship will change as well. Give people a vision and inspire them to see the goal. Then introduce small rules to the system, little by little. I really believe grassroots is the key. Everyday people make small changes.
More and more people decided to make their own small steps toward a better future.
I believe that this is a new trend. I call it “new spirituality”. Self-development of people through life coaching, affirmation, meditation... Veganism, running, being green… People of the Earth start to feel more and more connected. We are just serving, trying to contribute to this big trend of social innovators and changers.
Although making a change is a difficult task to do.
There will be hard times, and if you don’t know something, it’s always because you don’t see the whole system. When it gets hard, try going one level deeper in understanding why you do what you do. There will be one more aspect, a solution. I believe we are in a kind of Matrix. Neo finally saw all the digits and stopped bullets. Because he understood the rules of the system. I believe that advanced spiritual leaders can do that. They don’t fight anymore, they resonate with the system. In order to get there you must break many levels and at one point you have to go into philosophy or your core values of why you are doing what you are doing. There is a much bigger change when you truly believe in something, then when you are using some popular techniques as a façade. The system is changed element by element, from inside out. We are social changers, but I believe that social is just a level. There is a change on cognitive level (what we know and understand), emotional level (how we feel about certain situations), and finally spiritual level (what we know is the truth that resonates with everything). The greatest changers, like Gandhi, he didn’t do any social change, he was into philosophy. But he brought tremendous change to society. He was a philosopher, a philosophy and spiritual leader; he had a huge success at a cognitive and emotional level of his followers. That’s the way to go and there are real changes of the system.
More about Belgrade Running Club: belgraderunningclub.com