Crazy Running's year in 2023 was crazy good. The running, track and field and conditioning organization is moving into 2024 with a change in its ownership that is ... not so crazy.
Jessica and Donnie Cowart now own both the company and the franchise in Winston-Salem, where they live. The Cowarts bought founder Robyn McElwee's stake in November.
"It was just the right timing, the right scenario," Donnie Cowart says. "We really felt like it was a great time for our family, with our growing family, and Jessica had worked on it for two years. We were really excited about our direction and where we were headed. So we just pushed all our chips to the middle."
Crazy Running serves runners from ages 3 to 17, having added the 3- and 4-year-olds during the pandemic. But in 2023, programs for adults were added through a partnership with Cheryl and Justin Pfruender at BreakThrough Physical Therapy in Winston-Salem.
"We want our brand to be a place you can start running but also a place you can continue running," Donnie Cowart says. "Whether you're a 6-year-old or whether you're a 60-year-old, we're going to make a plan that's appropriate for you."
Nearly 2,000 runners took part in the Winston-Salem program alone during 2023. In December, almost 660 Crazy Running athletes signed up for the city's Mistletoe Run, which includes a mile run, 5K and a half marathon hosted by the William G. White Jr. Family YMCA, and helped make it the Triad's largest running event.
McElwee founded the program in 2009 and added Donnie Cowart as a business partner. Jessica's work with Crazy Running during these last two years, which have coincided with the birth of their daughter, Camilla, in fall 2022, showed that ownership under one roof would work, too.
"I could see all of the things she was doing and organizing, and I was like, 'She would make a great entrepreneur,'" Donnie Cowart says. "She is the best, the brightest business mind I've been around, male or female. She has all the strengths that I don't have, which is like the organization and the researching of what we need to do next.
"And it's just fun and exciting to do that with someone you love and care about so much."
That special someone adds: "Donnie and I are very different personalities, so that's what also makes us work really well together."
Jessica Cowart spent 11 years working for a company based in Winston-Salem.
"My time in indirect procurement and operations compliance also had me working closely with lots of other areas of the business that taught me a lot," she says, "and I feel like it serves me well now working behind the scenes of Crazy Running."
Crazy Running programs can be found in nine locations, including Greensboro but also in Virginia, Maryland, Georgia and Texas, and served about 3,000 youth.
Donnie Cowart, a college All-America at VMI in the steeplechase and a professional runner who will participate in a third U.S. Olympic trials, this time in the marathon, in February, formed his passion for the sport in his hometown of Rustburg, Va. Rustburg, about 130 miles northeast of Winston-Salem near Lynchburg, is home to about 1,500 residents.
"I didn't even know you could do running by itself," Cowart says of his childhood days. "It was baseball, basketball, football, soccer; those were the sports. And I would always be the first kid on my warmup lap to make it back around.
"You find the track team when you get to middle school. And that's the first time you actually run on a competitive level. So I'd love to show kids that this is something you can do at an early age. And really fighting the obesity epidemic, getting kids active early and getting away from screens and showing them that there can be some joy and achievement and pride in that aspect."
The Cowarts don't intend to veer from the formula that has served Crazy Running since McElwee founded it.
"We've always stuck with our ethos of keep it fun for kids," Donnie Cowart says. "Have our coaches well-trained but also find really enthusiastic coaches. And we have a really good product from our curriculum standpoint: What kids can grow to expect, but also what parents can grow to expect.
"We're going to prepare kids for not only a race, we're going to prepare them for any sports they might get ready for, any athletic activity. I've always felt this way about running: It is the fundamental movement for land sports. Probably gymnastics, dance and running. Those are body movements that are going to help you throughout any other sports or activities. And then you have swimming, that's probably a pretty core fundamental sport. If you can do those activities and move in that way, you're going to be pretty well set up to go use those skills in other sports.
"Or maybe chase my heart and go after cross country and track and field. You're set up to do both of those things.
"We're building that basic fundamental foundation and coordination and then letting kids take it where they may and keeping it all fun at the root of it when we get all those kids together."