Philadelphia has a new take on The Odd Couple, only the duo in this version will have you lacing up to run the Ben Franklin bridge, the Wissahickon, and through Philly’s neighborhoods; you’ll leave sweaty, laughing, and ready for more. Meet Swaggahouse Run Club (SHRC) founded in July 2020 by Josh Perez, 49, an inspector for the Philadelphia sheriff’s department, and his friend Ron Pichardo, 40, a Bronx-born, quick-witted jokester and gifted tattoo artist. Swaggahouse Run Club is a strong supporter of Legacy of Hope, and as an official training partner of the Philadelphia Love Run, is working with them to raise $250,000 to provide emergency support for Philadelphia cancer patients. See how you can support and/or join Josh and Ron at www.PhillyRunsFree.com. Ironically, neither of the two was a distance runner prior to the meeting. Perez did the occasional Spartan and Tough Mudder race, and Pichardo says he was a “casual runner” back then. Now half and full marathons are routine endeavors for them. As disparate as their occupations and personalities maybe, their chemistry is undeniable, effective, and entertaining.
The club’s name comes from Pichardo’s wildly successful tattoo studio in Elkins Park. Perez states “Ron is Swaggahouse, I’m Run Club…” but the story goes deeper than that. At its core, SHRC’s genesis stemmed from Perez’s desire to honor his friend, Dante Austin, who died by suicide in June 2019. Perez committed to “spread the word about running’s therapeutic, mental health and physical benefits.”
A few months before Austin's death, one of Perez’s friends, Javier Rodriguez (not a runner BTW), told him about a Legacy of Hope meeting he’d attended. He said he “felt compelled to run the 2019 Love Run Half Marathon after hearing some of the patient stories…I don’t feel like I have the right to complain about running a half marathon as a non-runner when I think about what those patients battle on a daily basis…so I’m reaching out to you.” Perez decided that he would do the Love Run “stride for stride” with Rodriguez. At the same time, and for months prior, Perez recalls how “Dante had been trying to convince me to run the Philly Marathon with him. And I resisted his pestering until I got drunk on finish line endorphins from the 2019 Love Run, and I called him touting 26.2 ain’t sh*t….let’s do this! `Next thing I knew, Dante had us registered for the marathon!” Then came his suicide. “It was devastating,” Perez says.
Pichardo recalls how “Dante’s death created a noticeable shift in Josh’s whole aura.” But it also cemented his commitment to keep his promise and complete the marathon. “Dante was like family” Perez declares; “When I told Ron—who was down to run for a good cause—about his suicide, he agreed to run the marathon with me;” the two of them started training that June. “At the beginning, Ron couldn’t even run a mile. But five months later he finished that 26.2!” exclaims Perez proudly.
Those months of training laid the foundation for SHRC. “We bonded through the hard
work. We noticed that black and brown communities were an underrepresented demographic on the running trails and wanted to change that. Growing up in North Philly, we didn’t see runners. So the idea was…create an all-inclusive club with the goal of bridging the gap between black and brown communities; getting back to the neighborhoods where we grew up.” states Perez.
Then they discovered a New York City run club that shared similar ideals—Hector Espinal’s WRU (We Run Uptown) Crew, based in Washington Heights. They traveled north, ran with WRU Crew, and got a glimpse of what SHRC’s future might look like.
SHRC’s first event, a five-mile run in July 2020, was met with such overwhelmingly positive feedback from the twelve participants that Perez knew “there was no turning back.” Since that first outing, Swaggahouse Run Club has hosted free, themed group runs every month, with each successive run yielding an influx of diverse new faces and a strengthened sense of community.
By the summer of 2021, their monthly group runs were a staple in Philly’s running community, and Swaggahouse Run Club leveled up their outreach. They partnered with the Philadelphia Chapter of Black Men Run(BMR) to launch Hood2Hood—a series of 14 consecutive weekly runs through Philly neighborhoods hit hardest by gun violence. “Miles up! Guns down!” was their chant, as the group stopped along the route to engage with youth, as well as minority-owned businesses. They were warmly received when folks learned what they were about. “If we change just one mind about putting the gun down we’ve succeeded.” declares Perez.
The next Swaggahouse Run Club initiative is #NormalizeBarrioRunning—a natural evolution of their emphasis on bringing positive change to black and brown communities through running—a definite echo of their visit to the WRU crew. Normalize Barrio Running will undoubtedly widen the worlds of those who participate—both for the people who live in some of those tough neighborhoods and for those of us fortunate enough to have been insulated from such realities. It’s a win-win.
“We’re not a competitive group, we’re a motivational group.” Perez declares at the start of group runs. And the motivation shows—in the smiles of the club’s growing ranks, the good-natured trash-talking, the palpable camaraderie and encouragement, and especially when Perez shares stories of SHRC’s positive impact and his reason for running: “to lose my mind and find my soul.” After group runs “we celebrate with a toast of tequila—although water or Gatorade will do—to say Salud! Cheers to life!”
When Perez isn’t organizing SHRC’s group runs, managing SHRC’s social media, collaborating with other run clubs, and running roughly 35-40 miles a week, he’s tending to family life with his wife of 18 years and their two kids. All of this is in addition to his day job with the sheriff’s department, where he has 27 years of public service. “The uniform has two sides: the badge and the nameplate. I focus on the nameplate because if I’m the best version of myself it will resonate through to everything else.”
Meanwhile, Pichardo's time is divided between countless hours in his thriving tattoo studio, and his family (a wife and five children). He’s not shy at all about stating that “Josh is the run club! But thank God, because it keeps me sane! You know, I’m in a box all day tattooing, so the club keeps me human when I come out to the runs. It's all love.”
On deck for SHRC in February is a collaboration with Chasing Trail on the Wissahickon. On March 20th they’ll have the Unity (flag) run on American street—get out there and fly the flag of whatever you’re proud of. And of course, the Love Run on March 27th. You can support Josh and/or Ron in their efforts to raise funds for Legacy of Hope. Or join them on race day for a 13.1 mile long, firsthand taste of running with Swagg. All you need to do is register at www.phillyrunsfree.com; raise $250 for Legacy of Hope, and your registration is free.