Fuel Your Purpose: Steph Blozy

Fostering Community One Run at a Time

— Anne Mercer

Do you know how raindrops are formed?

“A raindrop is formed when little pieces of dust and particles fly up into the air and water droplets grab onto that drop. When it gets heavy enough and the updrafts of the wind can’t hold it up anymore, it falls as rain or snow.”

Steph Blozy likes to think about her business, Fleet Feet in West Hartford, as that essential piece of dust—the center force that brings people together to create something bigger than itself.

And, if you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting Steph, you know how charismatic and passionate about the community she is.

Steph has been a loyal customer and champion of our brand for years. Yet, our businesses had never truly collaborated before.

When we began to expand our mission and outreach, we knew Steph’s love of community and lifting others up was the embodiment of our vision. Our partnership began with our coffee subscription box just for runners and has since grown into something far grander.

Steph’s love of running began when her father entered her into a Fun Run as a child. She grew up running alongside her siblings and father and ran competitively throughout high school and college. However, after being diagnosed with Lupus in 1995, she followed the advice of her doctors and stopped running.

With a background in meteorology, Steph focused on her career. Ultimately, she found herself longing to run with her family once again.

Her sister, Carrie, did some research and discovered that running and other aerobic activities had been proven to help those with inflammatory autoimmune conditions such as Lupus. After clearing it with a rheumatologist, Steph started running with her sister’s help, one mile at a time.

“That first mile felt like it was 24. But every weekend, my sister would go out and do a run with me. Every weekend we would add another mile. And after every run, she would have a little present for me.”

After 26 weeks, she not only had an impressive running wardrobe but also developed the ability to run a marathon after years of watching from the sideline. To celebrate, she ran the Marine Corp. Marathon with her father and sister. Today, Steph races in everything from local 5Ks to ultramarathons. 

This experience also solidified her desire to own a running store. In 2008, Steph and Carrie purchased the Fleet Feet franchise located in West Hartford, CT, and the rest was history. 

It's More Than a Store, It's a Community

On the surface, Fleet Feet may look like other athletic goods franchises. Rows of high-quality footwear line the wall and racks of clothing, running accessories, and gear are strategically placed throughout the store.    

But, spend more than two minutes in the store and you’ll realize just how beloved the store is to the Connecticut running community. 

“Right as we purchased the store, the previous owner, Alice Gold, handed me six bottles of Gatorade and said, ‘These three go to Hall and these three go to Conard for the state track championships.’ Not being from the area, I quickly learned where those were. It was at that moment that I realized that being an active part of the community was a big thing.”

This focus on community is evident from the moment you walk in the store to long after you leave. Employees know customers on a first-name basis, check in about their running progress, and offer personalized suggestions on routes, gear, running form, and so much more. 

Everyone is always welcome at Fleet Feet.

On top of shoes and accessories, Fleet Feet offers running programs catering to all experience levels, from children to marathon runners. Among their most popular programs are the No Boundaries 5k Training Program and the children’s Zoomerangs program on Sundays, where the goal is to equate running with fun.

These programs provide the foundation for accomplishing fitness goals, developing a love of running, and forging lifelong friendships.

One such success story Steph shared is that of a West Hartford mother who participated in the Zoomerangs program alongside her kids. This mother was looking for a new hobby or passion in life and hadn’t found it just yet. 

By running with her kids in Fleet Feet’s program, she developed a newfound love of running and eventually transitioned into the No Boundaries 5k program. Soon after, she graduated to the 10k, half-marathon, and marathon programs. 

It was the confidence and athleticism developed in these programs that encouraged her to enter the police academy at 42 years old. She graduated at the top of her class in physical fitness and joined the police force soon after, achieving a lifelong dream of hers.

“Those stories, to me, is what Fleet Feet is all about.”

Going Above and Beyond for Her Community

Steph’s passion for running is only exceeded by her love of giving back.

Among the many causes Fleet Feet is involved in is Footwear with Care, a non-profit partnership between Fleet Feet Sports, the Connecticut Podiatric Medical Association, the Hartford Police Department, and Community Partners in Action.

Through this organization, Fleet Feet collects and distributes sturdy, high-quality footwear and boots to Hartford’s homeless community and hosts Foot Clinics twice a year. Those in need can come to the clinic to receive new shoes, have their feet looked at by licensed podiatrists, and enjoy a complimentary meal.

“I always say the business of the store affords me the opportunity to do the things I really want to do in life, like give shoes to those who can’t afford them.”

Steph has also been involved with Race4Chase, a triathlon program in memory of Chase Kowalski, and Love Wins, donating 500+ shoes to students in the New Britain School System as part of the Ana Grace Project, founded in memory of Ana Grace Márquez-Greene.

“I think what I love most is helping broken people heal. And that’s the greatest thing Fleet Feet has allowed me to do.”

Conquering Challenges For the Sake of Community

Steph’s mentality is to always give 115%, no matter if that’s in entrepreneurial endeavors or giving back to those in need.

With that mindset, she took on the challenge of business ownership headfirst and immediately learned that although the running community may have a strong community of women, the running store world was extremely male-dominated.

“As a female, you have to work a little bit harder to prove yourself. People don’t think we can handle it. In reality, they’ve found that female managers are better because we can nurture, draw community, and when necessary, we can be stern.”

It was that determination and winning combination of characteristics that drove the store’s business decisions and philanthropic endeavors.

“If I don’t have a good business, people won’t come in. If people don’t come in, I don’t have the platform to give back.”

However, like most retail stores, 2020 was a difficult year for Fleet Feet.

As the world shut down and retail businesses across the country were forced to eliminate in-store shopping, Fleet Feet did so too—but not without a fight.

Instead of throwing in the towel, Steph and her team came up with creative solutions to keep the store alive. They quickly found themselves operating outdoor shoe fittings and hand-delivering orders all over the state.

“I worked just as hard as I did that very first year in business. I was spending every single moment working on the store.”

While times may have seemed bleak, Fleet Feet had one built-in silver lining: their community.

Years of cultivating relationships, giving back, and making a commitment to helping others developed a united community around the running store. And, there was no greater evidence of the strength of this community support than when Fleet Feet was finally able to welcome customers back into the store.

“People came flooding in!”

Fleet Feet had always been the beacon of community and hope for runners. The store simultaneously served as a place for community and a means to get involved and give back to others within the local community.

When 2020 brought waves of strife one after another, the community turned to Fleet Feet for direction. 

“We held a ‘Run for Justice’ in West Hartford Center in June of 2020. Being that it was a global pandemic, we didn’t know how many people to expect. We had over 300 people show up and participate.”

2020 may have been a trying year for Fleet Feet, but it was also one of validation. There’s no questioning whether Fleet Feet is a West Hartford staple. The caring and supportive community Steph has fostered will forever rally around the store and those in need.

Coffee & Running Go Hand-in-Hand

Running and coffee are synonymous. It’s not uncommon to see runners and spectators gripping a thermos full of coffee on a chilly autumn morning or sipping on an iced coffee before the starting gun sounds. 

Or, stick around after any Fleet Feet-organized run and you’ll hear, “Want to go grab coffee?”

“Once I hear that phrase, I know the runners are about to become lifelong friends. The greatest friendships are formed over coffee. You can’t help but want to hang out, chat, and get to know the person over a great cup of coffee.”

We believe Steph put it best when she said...

Magic happens when you have coffee.

Our coffee subscription program with Fleet Feet combines everything Steph loves about running and coffee: great coffee, great gear, and a great community.

When you subscribe, you’ll receive your favorite Victus Coffee blend and a surprise running gift curated by Steph herself! 

Best of all, your subscription is completely customizable. Choose your grind size, quantity, delivery schedule, and more. 

👉  Subscribe today and join our community of runners and coffee lovers!

Rapid Fire Questions 

— "What was your favorite race and why?"

“That would have to be my first ultramarathon in Maryland. I trained for it and ran it with my best friend. It rained the night before so the first seven miles of the route were covered in mud! It was epic in so many ways and I was so proud of myself for completing it.

My second favorite race of all time is one I just completed with Open Doors Outdoors in Gadsden, Alabama. We joined a veteran and other athletes for a 4-mile trail run and CrossFit workout hybrid. Every half-mile or so there’d be another workout, like swimming under a waterfall or climbing a 15-foot rope. On top of the physical adventure, it was great being able to complete it as a team.”

— “Favorite way to drink coffee?"

“Black with a touch of cream! Although, I will treat myself to a latte with a little vanilla syrup once in a while.”

— “If you could have coffee with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?”

“My grandmother. I often wonder if my entrepreneurial tendencies come from her. She was very independent, but given the times, conformed to societal gender role norms. I have a feeling she was really a free spirit and would love to get the chance to ask her about all that over a cup of coffee.”

Visit Steph and her team at Fleet Feet Sports in West Hartford at 1003 B Farmington Avenue.

Know someone who we should interview?
Send us a message at anne@victuscoffee.com.