Are You a Sol Sister?
Sisterhood comes in many forms during of our lives. Sometimes it comes as a whisper when your best friend cups her hands over your ear in the schoolyard and confesses how much she likes the cutest boy in your sixth grade science class. Sometimes it comes as a nudge when your work friend sends you a text message alerting you that the client is flying in a day early for the presentation you’re responsible for leading. And sometimes it comes as a kick in the butt when your fitness group literally walks through your front door, fifteen deep, and drags you off of the couch to join them for the six mile run you promised you wouldn’t miss.
That kind of couch extraction happened to me more times than I care to remember but that kick in the butt has made me stronger, more accountable, and has shown me sometimes my sister-friends care more about my health and well-being than I do. I have been blessed to call twelve phenomenal women my sisters in fitness and in life. Our fitness group, Runtellthis, is made up of African American and Dominican American women ranging in age from 30 to 63 years old. Depending on whom you ask, Runtellthis has been considered the heartbeat of Chicago’s South Side marathon, triathlon and fitness community since 2004. We are committed to serving as living, breathing examples of what it means to be fit and healthy. Collectively we have completed more than 100 marathons (26.2 miles), three dozen half marathons (13.1 miles) and three dozen triathlons. We have raced together from San Diego to Paris, France, and we continue to support—and push—one another mile after mile.
In contrast to our small but powerful group, GirlTrek, headquartered in Washington, DC, has more than 50,000 followers in their virtual network and more than 10,000 girls and women who have publicly committed to walk for at least 30 minutes, five days a week for ten weeks each year. Founded by Vanessa Garrison and T. Morgan Dixon in 2010, GirlTrek has formed neighborhood-based, school-based and church-based groups across the country, called Trek Teams. The teams get together once a week for accountability and sisterhood.
Vanessa and T. Morgan have set out to change the face of health among African American girls and women, and to inspire them to stand as advocates for healthier families and communities.
Black Girls RUN!, another fitness group that has begun to change the fitness landscape for thousands of African American women, was started in 2009 by Ashley Hicks and Toni Carey. ”I decided that I wanted to start running and I told my mom to get that mom buy-in,” says Toni. “My mom said Black women don’t run and that my uterus would fall out. Ashley and I agreed that that was crazy, Black women do run! We decided right then to lead the charge to bring more awareness to black women running and getting healthy.” Black Girls RUN! has become a national movement with a network of well over 61,000 women and roughly 60 chapters throughout the United States. Chapter members proudly wear their Black Girls RUN! t-shirts as they set out each weekend to take steps toward better health. Like GirlTrek, Black Girls RUN! does not charge a fee to join and encourages women at all fitness levels to come out and see how being a part of a positive, supportive group can become a transformative experience.
Outdoor Afro, the brainchild of northern California-native, Rue Mann, reconnects African Americans with natural spaces and one another through recreational activities such as camping, hiking, biking, birding, fishing, gardening and skiing. Outdoor Afro engages approximately 10,000 people, primarily African American women, through social media. The goal is to create interest communities and events, and to partner with regional and national organizations that support diverse participation in the great outdoors. “If we’re enjoying the outdoors, the natural outcome is that we’ll feel better both mentally and physically and we’ll be more connected to our environment,” says Rue.
Dr. Olivia Affuso, an obesity epidemiologist and associate scientist in the University of Alabama, Birmingham’s Clinical Nutrition Research Center, completed the Northface Endurance Challenge Ultra marathon (50 kilometers or 31.07 miles) in Atlanta. She is also a leader of the Black Girls Run! group in Birmingham. “I am really interested in getting people to be less sedentary and more involved in physical activities.” As an obesity epidemiologist, Dr. Affuso knows without a doubt that being physically active can improve health. “Participating in fitness groups and outdoor social groups is an excellent way for women of color to get fit but you don’t have to do anything fancy. You really don’t have to run. I just encourage adults and children to spend less time sitting down doing nothing.”
If you are thinking about getting active, the easiest way to start is by making a commitment to yourself. Take baby steps to overcome your fears, rid yourself of excuses and get moving.
Interested in joining a fitness or outdoor social group?
• Research fitness groups on Facebook or Meetup.com; many groups are free to join and are well represented on social media Websites, providing regular updates about upcoming meetings and events.
• Look for a group that fits your schedule and interests; GirlTrek, for example, has a national walking campaign, so if walking is your thing, visit girltrek.org to learn more about when the campaign begins and how to get involved.
• Check out local running stores like Fleet Feet or athletic apparel stores like Lululemon. Many stores have activity boards where local walking, yoga, cycling and hiking groups post information.
• Create your own group! Talk to your friends, set small goals and make a commitment to meet once a week!
• Sign up to volunteer at a local race to get inspired. You can find races throughout the US on http://www.active.com/.