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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Swifts band together for the distance

The Spokane Swifts Running Team heads off for a Bloomsday training run on Tuesday. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Running has always been in Heather LeFriec’s blood.

Since she was in high school, LeFriec has covered every inch of Spokane in her running shoes. She’s been on the track improving her speed and on the trails, pushing herself to reach marathon distances.

She and her twin sister, Heidi Bresson, stood out on their high school cross country team at Oak Harbor, earning them both spots on the cross country squad at Gonzaga University.

Nearly two decades later, the 46-year-old LeFriec is still lacing up her running shoes and hitting the Spokane trails – and she’s not alone. At times, LeFriec is joined by roughly 30 women in a run, including her sister, who share LeFriec’s obsession with long-distance running.

They call themselves the Spokane Swifts and they pride themselves on being the only all-women’s competitive running team in the Inland Northwest.

“We want to nurture women runners in the greater Spokane area who want to be better, stronger, faster at running and in life,” LeFriec said.

While there are normally about 30 women at one of the handful of runs organized throughout the week, the Spokane Swifts have roughly 150 official members who join LeFriec on the trails throughout the month.

Their numbers have grown exponentially since the group’s conception 10 years ago. LeFriec said the Swifts started with 14 members in 2008 when she and another local runner, Janet Collar, first strung together a group of former collegiate runners who were still looking to compete.

Collar was the first to propose the idea of forming some kind of running team after USA Track and Field announced that Spokane would host the 2008 National Club Cross Country Championships. She scrambled to make the team official with USATF and came up with the name Spokane Swifts.

“I just thought of a random name,” Collar said. “I just thought, well, swift’s a bird and it flies pretty quickly and pretty quietly.”

They found a generic bird logo and threw together uniforms for the mid-December race. LeFriec and Collar split the group in two teams to compete against clubs from all over the country.

Their top team of eight runners, including LeFriec and Collar, competed in the women’s open division and took 11th place out of 21 teams in a race that stretched 6 kilometers.

“It was a very humbling experience,” LeFriec said.

The Swifts will finally get their chance at redemption this year when the USATF National Club Cross Country Championship returns to Spokane in December. LeFriec said she’s hoping to get the majority of the runners back from their original team to compete for Spokane.

But it won’t be easy. Most of those runners are now in their mid-40s, leading hectic lives, and often don’t have enough time to train. Some have since moved out of Spokane, such as Collar, who is living in Pullman.

“It’s hard,” LeFriec said. “A lot of us are getting older, some of us are not running as much, but we’re going to try and put together that original team.”

Chances are, LeFriec will have some holes to fill, but she’ll have plenty of competitors to choose. The Spokane Swifts are packed full of runners who have met the fitness requirements to be in the group.

Most members can maintain a mile pace of less than 8 minutes, but it varies by age. Since the 2008 race, the Swifts have attracted women who meet the time requirements for their respective age groups from all over Spokane, ranging from 19 years old to 75. There were originally no restrictions on men joining the group, but LeFriec said the Swifts have only seemed to attract women.

“It’s not that we meant to be only women, it’s just how it turned out,” she said.

Most of the women meet up with fellow Swifts at least once a month for practices and usual train for marathons, half marathons and triathlons across the country. They train for speed on the track during the week and get on the trails on the weekends for long runs that vary between 10 and 20 miles.

The Swifts have recently hit the trails more often than the track to train for Bloomsday, Sunday morning in downtown Spokane. LeFriec said she expects the majority or her Swifts will be dressed in their pink-and-black colors and running the race.

LeFriec hopes the group will continue to grow and be a sort of hub for women looking to compete alongside other competitive women in the Northwest.

“I feel like our group has been a great support group,” LeFriec said. “It’s just a group of women who like to empower other women. That’s probably our main mission. It’s just women empowering other women through the sport of running.”