OAK BROOK – For a better part of a decade, everything was running smoothly for Jennifer Conroyd.
The La Grange resident completed her first marathon in 2001, qualified and ran in the 2003 Boston Marathon and finished an Ironman in 2009.
But in 2010, Conroyd encountered a bump in her journey that became a defining moment for the rest of her life. She was preparing for the Chicago Marathon, raising $10,000 with the help of her family for team 10-10-10 for Ben, named after her nephew who was diagnosed with diabetes at a young age.
But even the best laid plans can go awry.
“I tore a calf muscle about six weeks before the race and knew in like two seconds I was going to be out of that race,” Conroyd said.
But she overcame her initial frustration and began researching leg rehabilitation procedures, eventually finding an article about how to rehabilitate and stay in shape by running in the water.
Conroyd immediately contacted the author, professional Australian runner Kevin Beck.
“It was a nine-week plan and only went up to about an 8-mile distance in the water and I said, ‘Well, I only have six weeks and I need to run 26,’” she said. “The guy was like, ‘I’ll call you tomorrow.’ ”
After exchanging several emails with Beck, Conroyd trained in the water for six weeks, and the results were astounding. Not only did she complete the 2010 Chicago Marathon, but she nearly set a personal record.
Enlightened by the benefits of her new found training regimen, Conroyd decided to commit her life’s work to educating others about the benefits of water cardio. She ventured to Canada to become a certified trainer because there were no such certification programs offered in the United States.
Returning to the area, Conroyd became the first nationally certified water running instructor and coach. She started one-on-one work with athletes at the Oak Brook Park District and word quickly spread about participants’ success rates.
“My little group grew and I just said to [the Park District staff] one day, ‘Hey, can I start a class?’ ... and then came up with the name Fluid Running,” she said.
Her company, Fluid Running, was founded in 2011 at the Park District and encompasses the cardiovascular and muscular benefits of traditional running but without the impact.
Done in the deep end of a pool, participants are suspended in the water by a flotation device and go through motions of running on ground. Because of the water resistance, fluid running strengthens arms and engages muscles, according to Conroyd.
The exercise also flushes out toxins, improves cardiovascular fitness and decreases swelling from injuries, Conroyd added.
“People love it,” she said. “It’s fun, it’s different and just appeals to so many people, whether you’re an athlete, you’re overweight, you have pain, you don’t like sweat …whatever the case may be.”
Oak Brook Park District family aquatics manager Jessica Gray said classes now are “usually full” – about 16 people registered in each of the 16 winter and spring sessions.
“It started out pretty small, and we have grown kind of an insane amount of classes right now,” Gray said. “We started by putting one class a weekend and it would fill up so quickly we would add another class.”
There are three other certified Oak Brook Park District Fluid Running instructors: Marcy Dunne, Pam Devitt and Joan Tuisl.
The LaGrange resident is mesmerized by growing popularity of the class. Thanks to a new certification program provided by Conroyd and the Park District, people from all over the United States, including Denver, California and even Alaska, are coming to the Park District to become certified in Fluid Running.
“I truly got into it thinking it would help injured athletes stay in running shape, and then it just kept expanding,” she said. “It’s fun, and I’m really enjoying it.”