Cross country and track and field alum Brian Hager ’06 did not quit running when he graduated from Messiah. As he transitioned from being a student to a coach at Messiah, Hager grew to miss the team atmosphere and the friendships he enjoyed as an athlete. In an attempt to reestablish community in his life, Hager helped launch s.w.i.f.t. racing, a running club for alums in the Messiah area.
In the summer of 2008, Brian Hager, his brother Patrick Hager ’08, along with former teammates Eric Bofinger ’07 and Matthew Hahn ’07 brainstormed ways to cultivate community as post-graduate competitive runners. Deciding to start a running club, the core group ran their first race together in October 2008 at the Gettysburg Cross Country Invitational. After many discussions, Brian Hager landed on the name of the club, leading to a conversation about colors and styles of uniforms.
“I consider that a God moment—He spoke to me during a run and the name fit so well,” says Hager.
The name s.w.i.f.t. stands for strength, wisdom, integrity, faith and truth. These words serve as a principle for the running club, defining the characteristics these men and women lean on and strive after to live Christ-centered lives.
Hager and his co-founders started emailing and calling other graduates and attending races to talk about s.w.i.f.t. racing. The club grew with Messiah alums as they invited each graduating class of cross country and track and field runners to become members. Although they do not limit the club to Messiah alums, they want to make sure the team members share the same values. The club currently consists of 35 members.
Designed as a way to continue communication, accountability and encouragement, the club provides many different benefits for the runners. Originally, s.w.i.f.t. racing started an online running log where everyone would record runs and workout, which served as an accountability tool. Today, they have many email threads going, discussing anything running related. With a few training groups around the state of Pennsylvania, they meet up at races and plan to attend races where they can get a large group together. Currently, five members are training for the Boston Marathon in April.
The club also serves a greater purpose than simply logging miles and holding each other accountable. They wear a cross on their jerseys and people often ask about their name, giving members an opportunity to share their faith. They club also prays before races, which draws other runners’ attention.
When looking to the future, Hager and his team share a few goals. In the short term, they hope to build a core group of team members and get more members to participate in team activities. On the competitive side of it, they hope that the five runners in the Boston Marathon (Eric Bofinger, Partick Hager, Jeff Smeiles, Brian Hager and James Davis) will perform well. Lastly, they hope to give back to the running community through volunteering at races and turn their running club into an outreach.
Eventually, the team hopes to acquire a sponsorship that will allow them to travel to more races. They also plan to institute team-focused activities, such as summer camps and team races. Ultimately, s.w.i.f.t. racing members share the goal to provide a testimony of Christ-centered athletes to those around them.
“People notice when you stand on a starting line and huddle to pray. People notice when there’s a big cross on your jersey and they see a group at the front of the race. I think we live in a culture where people shy away from expressions of faith that might offend anyone, especially in athletics. At Messiah we talk a lot about wearing our God’s name on our chests. We wear the cross on our back with s.w.i.f.t. and I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of a group that so honestly professes the influence that He has on our lives,” says Hager.
Story by Emily Mohler `13. Photos courtesy of Brian Hager `06.