If you happen to drive past the Thornden Park water tower at 6:15 on a Wednesday morning, do not be alarmed to see a group of adults running hills or spray-painting t-shirts – they are the November Project Syracuse and they love getting up early. Even on the coldest, wettest and windiest mornings that Syracuse throws at them, the November Project athletes wake up and show up to their weekly workouts.
The November Project started in Boston as a way to show people that they didn’t need an expensive gym to be able to work out in the cold New England winters. Originally supposed to be a one-month program in November 2011, the November Project is now featured in 52 cities across the world. November Project groups gather weekly to work out, hang out and build connections within their communities.
Amanda Hughes, the founder of the November Project Syracuse, said she was instantly inspired to start the group after attending just one workout with the November Project Buffalo.
“I thought, ‘How does this not exist in Syracuse’ and I knew instantly that I could do it and I wanted to do it for the city,” Hughes said.
After a sixteen-week pledging process during which Hughes hosted weekly workouts under the name “’Cuse Community Fitness” to gauge interest, the November Project Syracuse became official on May 23, 2018.
“The community here totally responded,” Hughes said. “We had new people come every week and it continued to grow which told me that people were looking for something like this.”
Along with Hughes, co-leader Nick Burger has been there since the beginning.
“I showed up because I had a couple friends begging me to go, and I got there, and everyone was just so welcoming,” Burger said about his first time at a workout.
From the first day, he was hooked, soon becoming a fixture at the weekly meetings. Later, when one of the group’s first co-leaders had to step down, Hughes immediately wanted Burger to take the spot.
“Nick just shined so bright, it was always going to be him,” Hughes said.
Daniel Marobella, a member of the November Project Syracuse, recalled a morning when the group played tug of war in the park.
“Amanda and Nick brought this big, thick tug of war rope and it was in the middle of the snow. We were sliding all over and laughing, and my team lost but it was great. Every meeting gets better than the last,” Marobella said.
While the snow and rain aren’t enough to stop these athletes, the COVID-19 pandemic did force the group to switch to online workouts.
“We weren’t meeting in person, but we always did something,” Burger said.
Meeting on Zoom meant that the workouts could expand to other cities. One week, the co-leaders from every participating city in New York State joined a Zoom meeting and led a workout for their members.
When restrictions began to be lifted, the November Project Syracuse slowly began to transition back to in person.
“Starting in July we did groups of ten people, and you had to pre-sign up for it,” Burger said. “Now we probably go between 20 and 30 people that are coming regularly.”
Burger anticipates a rise in attendance not only due to the loosening of COVID restrictions but also because of the warming weather. Despite the November Project being what they call, “weatherproof,” the cold can sometimes be a turn-off for potential new members.
Stacy Underwood, a November Project Syracuse member, said working out in the cold can take some adapting.
“You adjust and you learn different techniques, like maybe keeping an extra pair of gloves in your car or a towel for those crazy soaking days,” Underwood said.
Once a month, co-leaders Hughes and Burger will bring spray paint and stencils to the park to make November Project t-shirts for everyone who comes. The members bring their own shirts from home, and Hughes and Burger will send them out on a run while they do the tagging.
“The idea is to use what you have, you don’t have to go buy anything,” Hughes said.
After their morning workouts, some members of the group will meet at Recess Coffee to warm up, dry off and just chat.
“It’s fun to gather and connect, you know because when you are working out you don’t always get a chance to chat,” Hughes said. “It’s a nice way to relax and enjoy each other’s company.”
Whether at their workouts or post-workout coffee runs, the November Project Syracuse makes connecting with people a priority.
“We joke that it’s this mashup between adult recess, cross-fit, run club, and like a bit of everything,” Hughes said. “It’s meant to bring people together and to build better communities through this idea of free fitness and utilizing your city.”