Brainsport Run Club helps new immigrant find sense of community

When Xiaomin (Dolly) Jiang moved to Saskatoon in February 2017, she only knew three people: the immigration agent who had helped her move from China, the real estate agent who sold her her house and her teenage son, who’d made the move across the world with her.

Jiang, 48, had moved to Canada with plans to start her own energy efficient building materials company, but the transition was tough. She was having difficulty networking and meeting people.

In an effort to change her situation, she began volunteering with various groups in the city, including with the Saskatoon Cycles’ bike valet program. While working a shift at the bike valet in August 2017 she told a fellow volunteer how lonely she was.

“I tell him I am really confused and I really feel puzzled on how to make friends,” Jiang said.

The volunteer suggested that Jiang go to the free Brainsport run club.

Jiang was skeptical. When she had been a middle school student, she needed to run 800 metres in under four minutes and 30 seconds in order to pass gym class and had never been able to do it, even after trying every day for a month. In the end, her teacher gave her an exemption.

“Afterward, I almost never ran,” she said

But she was so desperate to make friends that she showed up to a Brainsport run club one Wednesday evening in August. She joined a group that was alternating between a three-minute run and a one-minute walk. By the end of the first run, Jiang was behind the group. Her hair was a mess and her face was purple.

Jiang worried that she wasn’t fit or fast enough to be part of the run club, but the other runners assured her she should keep showing up. The man she’d met at the bike valet volunteered to run with her to help her get faster.

These days, Jiang often runs with the run club group that does nine-minute runs followed by one-minute walks and can run up to 10 kilometres at a time on her own. She has lost 20 pounds in the last year and can now fit into the wedding dress she wore in 1997. If she goes for a few days without running, she misses it.

The best part is, she’s found a group of people who make her feel at home in Saskatoon. The man who invited her out to run in the summer of 2017 is now her boyfriend and the contacts she’s made through the group helped her launch her company, Ecowell Building Materials Co., last year.

“After Brainsport, after the running activities, then I start to know ‘Oh the daily lives here of the Canadian people is like this way,’” Jiang said.

“Brainsport running changed my life in Saskatoon … Right now, I feel I’m alive.”

 — Andrea Hill (Editor, Brainsport Times)