Jonah Istifan / Waterloo, ON

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On February 27, 2017, I decided to quit smoking and signed up for a Running Room program called Walk or Run to Quit. The program continues to revolutionize the way people quit smoking while helping them become physically active for life. Since the pilot project began in 2013, hundreds of participants have signed on for the 10-week training program, which assists them in quitting smoking by teaching them to walk and/or run 5K.

Jonah (right) with Running Room founder John Stanton.

The Walk or Run to Quit program worked wonders for me. It introduced me to a community of people that I admire, and who have continued to cheer me on in my journey. I had an awesome Run to Quit coach named Jody and was teamed up with a group of amazing people who were going through the same transition. We supported each other, shared stories, and got active together while learning to run.

I am proud to be successful in quitting smoking. I have been smoke-free for a year and a half, and I have lost 40 pounds. It didn’t happen all at once—it took hard work, patience and determination. I picked away at it piece by piece, pound by pound.

Jonah before he quit smoking and became a runner.

After being a hard-core smoker for over 10 years, I can’t believe how much money and time I wasted on such a crippling habit and lifestyle. As I look back on pictures of myself as a smoker weighing 220 pounds, I am so happy to see the changes and share my successes with friends and family, who continue to inspire and support me every step of the way. Running has truly provided me better mental clarity, giving me purpose to be and become a better person inside and out.

As I went on to complete the 5K and half marathon training programs at the Waterloo location, the next steps became clear. In June, I became a part-time staff member at the store, and I also instructed the Learn to Run and 5K clinics. I am a big believer in the Running Room training methods. When I started out in the Run or Walk to Quit program, I learned about the impact that an active lifestyle could have on my health, and I saw that it was up to me to put the information to good use.

Over the past 18 months, I have accomplished many big things through my training at the Running Room, including two half marathons, hiking a mountain in Banff and participating in the 30K Around the Bay Road Race. I have also covered countless kilometres of running and walking. Recently I had the honour of meeting Running Room founder (and fellow former smoker) John Stanton. We shared stories about running and the importance of working toward an active and healthy lifestyle.

This fall, I will be instructing the Run to Quit training program at the nearby Kitchener location. It is inspiring for me to meet others who are willing to take on a new challenge in their lives. Becoming an instructor has given me a chance to meet people who are dedicated to making a positive change. In return, they keep me accountable to my runs and new friendships are created. I’m honoured to be a part of their journey.

When I meet someone new at the store or on a run, I enjoy sharing the story of how I became a runner. It might seem complex, but it’s actually pretty simple. Running has changed my life, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.

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