Playing in the mud
Nate Smith of Poplarville has embarked on a path that was unintended but nevertheless extremely gratifying.
A running group he and his friends formed more than a year ago — the Mississippi Mud Pirates — has had what many would consider explosive growth.
“We started the group because there were four of five of us who were doing races and 5K’s,” Smith said. “We were trying to keep up with each other and notify everyone but we found it difficult to keep up with everyone. So we created the Facebook group in 2012 to facilitate information on races. There is no group membership fee; we just do stuff.”
Smith said when the group attended the Run with the Pigs, which was held in conjunction with the Backyard Bar-B-Que in November, they experienced a surge in growth.
“Since Run with the Pigs, we have been growing two or three likes a day. We had 180 likes on day of the race and we had 199 by the end of the race day. We now have over 260,” Smith said. “I think coming to Picayune and meeting people was a big help.”
Smith says the group is comprised of every skill level of runner — from starting to professional — including a guy who is sponsored by the Wounded Warrior group. He said they even have members who participate in Iron Man competitions.
“We have a pretty wide range of people,” Smith said. “There are a lot of local running groups, but they meet in one specific area and run there. We have stayed in the group and spread the runs around. This appeals to many people who are not in a specific area who do not have local groups.
“I’m a pharmacist, my wife is a physical therapist, and we have doctors and many other medical professionals. It encourages people to have some people with medical education helping out and giving tips when they need them.”
Of the group’s current membership, Smith said 65 have responded with their race statistics from 2013.
“We have run in 43 cities and nine states (with far more on tap for 2014),” he said. “We were represented in 93 races and had 333 individual race registrations in 2013 and the year’s not over yet.
“Not only were we at the races but we also get called to the podium at nearly every race. We had one fairly large race (the Blueberry Jubilee) in which we had at least one person place in every age group but one. It is no coincidence; we had no one from that age group on our team.”
As far as the Mississippi Mud Pirates is concerned, the group that plays together stays together.
“We did a group run at Lazy Magnolia for First Friday,” Smith says. “They do catering and have a band; they sponsored us for a run and we had 30 people go run in the rain this past Friday. We had a great time and we are going to try to do a run every first Friday. We are trying to have a 1-mile, 2-mile and 3-mile run set up for the event.”
With recent statistics from the Mississippi Department of Health citing obesity as major contributor to death and disease in the south, running is great way to fight the battle of the bulge.
“Many of us were chubby kids and we got into running to lose weight,” Smith said. “The most important thing is to get involved. Find some people who will hold you accountable, it benefits to have someone there for support and motivation.
“We are not a very elite kind of group; we just go out and run. If someone is a new runner, I will hang back and run with them if it helps them.”
Smith said he started out running obstacle courses like the Spartan Race.
“The Spartan Race helped get me back into running; that is where the Mud Pirate name came from. Those races are like the gateway to other sports,” Smith said. “You’ve heard of gateway drugs? Well those races are like that for runners. They give you breaks even though you are exhausted.
“If I can get someone to do that—they are hooked. You can’t do those without wanting to do more.”
Future plans for the group include getting more races under their belt and helping the community.
Smith said the group is currently seeking non-profit 501 (c) 3 status so individuals and groups can make tax-deductible donations to the group to help with their mission of fighting childhood obesity.
“We are trying to help communities fight childhood obesity by hosting free or really cheap 5k runs, health fairs, provide gym equipment, etc.,” Smith said. “We are also working in setting up a scholarship fund and are hoping to buy two handicap jogging strollers (both a child and adult) for us to push those who can’t run.”
Smith said the challenge in that area is to get donations prior to obtaining the status.
“Until then, we are looking for local businesses to sponsor us in exchange for advertisement on our group running shirts,” he said. “Even though we aren’t a charity yet, people will still able to write off the expense as advertising.”