Caitlin Limmer’s words, not mine – which she says laughing and in jest. But what a community – a movement no less – it is. And a far cry from boring, that’s for sure.
I first met Caitlin about nine years ago. Running wasn’t really my thing. Or so I thought. Long red locks, a stonking voice and the kindest of hearts, she gave me an encouraging nudge: “Just come join and see”. And the rest, as they say, is history. No major medals or records ensued, but it was game changing nonetheless. Running is now an integral part of my life – to catch up with friends, clear my head or simply feel ready for the day/ week ahead.
But you see, Caitlin didn’t just do this for me, she’s done this for hundreds of other people in our community through her BeaRCat Running Club in Twickenham. And as a new Running Mayor of West London, she’ll no doubt change the lives of thousands of others over the next year too. What’s pretty astonishing is that she never proactively set out to create this community.
40 minutes to live…
“17 years ago, I was given 40 minutes to live. But actually, that moment turned out to be a new beginning, not the end,” Caitlin tells me.
Later diagnosed with ‘Myelodysplastic Syndrome’, a form of bone marrow cancer, Caitlin found solace and health in running – often at 5am camouflaged in clothes and sunglasses “so no-one would recognise me”. She adds: “I went from slow caterpillar to slightly faster caterpillar. For many years it was clear: I wasn’t a great runner. I’ve gone on to run marathons (in a giant foam beer bottle, no less) and take part in ultra-swims. But I don’t care if someone does them in half the time. That’s their story; I have my own.”
What also became clear is that she wanted others to experience the life-changing potential of running, its ability to boost physical and mental health, and above all, to bring people together – and “meet some blooming great people along the way”.
What we can learn from geese, honk, honk…
You heard it right. Caitlin was standing in her garden one day, looking up at the sky, wondering what a honking commotion was all about. She spotted a gaggle of geese hovering above – and then clocked a smaller, tired goose struggling behind. They all waited, until the little one caught up. She gives me a quick lesson on goose behaviour.
“When geese fly together, they are powering each other with their wing movement, changing the air pattern. The ones struggling behind are therefore supported. They are 71% more efficient when they’re flying together. If we are all singing from the same song sheet we are more powerful. If we are being kind and supportive and not pulling away from each other, we are a strong, collective force.”
And this is the ethos that reverberates throughout the BeaRCat community, that she’s since realised has become her faith.
Hard work & being bold…
And it’s a faith that’s certainly led her out of her comfort zone. During the pandemic, like many other organisations, BeaRCat Running Club turned virtual overnight. And with it, Caitlin had to brush up on some previously unknown skills – pretty quickly.
“I wasn’t very good at it initially. No DJ skills, no Spotify. I had to learn. I’ve probably hosted about 250 virtual runs now, drawing crowds from Spain, Dubai, Ireland and the UK, of course. I wanted my community to stay in touch, hear other people’s names called out. Little bits of news, me still being there to support, if needed. I wasn’t going to shut the door on them. As a community we have a responsibility to each other. My community, our community, has been built brick by brick. I didn’t try and build a palace in a day. I just put the work in, every day, month after month, year after year. Good honest graft. When you’ve been ill and have it all taken potentially away from you – why would you want to be anything but yourself?”
Honesty in who you are – as a person or a business
Authenticity is an overused word. But at its core, it’s about being real and having integrity – leading by example and putting in the hard work. Now a motivational speaker and life coach as well, Caitlin has words of wisdom for businesses trying to build their own community.
“The moment you open the doors of your business, you’re leaving an impression of who you are and what your intentions are. Every single interaction has an effect on your community. There are often a lot of tick box exercises and lip service going on, for example when it comes to ESG. Businesses need to find their own individual way of developing their own community. Try things and experiment – it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work; that’s when you learn. It’s the honesty that counts. And that’s how you teach people to grow, as well.”
Walking the walk
So, what can brands and businesses draw from this very real life community that’s gone from strength to strength, day by day? Having your own story – focusing less on competitors and more on what your business does really well – is certainly a poignant message. Then there’s the power of many: valuing everyone around you, from staff to clients, to achieve great things and grow. Being brave and bold when the time is right, certainly. And finally, being honest in your endeavours; clients and customers appreciate transparency, even when it comes to admitting mistakes – it isn’t a sign of weakness.
One thing’s for sure, Caitlin doesn’t just talk the talk when it comes to community, she walks the walk. And, as the new Running Mayor of West London, she’ll no doubt be getting many more people to walk, or get out and run in the community. If you live in West London, watch out! Honk, honk.