Local chapter of Black Girls RUN! aims for healthier lifestyle

lgierer@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 7, 2014 

Mike Haskey/mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.comFrom left, Patrice Riley, Wakenia Leonard, Natasha Graham and Ivy Graham, 5, pose for a photo near a portion of the Rail Trail in Columbus, where the Black Girls RUN! group meets to run.

MIKE HASKEY — mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com Buy Photo

It's not just another running club.

Black Girls RUN! has a special focus.

"Our mission is to encourage African-American women to make fitness and healthy living a priority," Patrice Riley said.

Riley, 32, of Fort Mitchell, Ala. and Wakenia Leonard, 37, of Columbus lead the group and are known as ambassadors.

"According to the Centers for Disease Control, 80 percent of African-American women are overweight," Riley said.

Black Girls RUN!, which has chapters nationally, is a movement to lower that percentage and subsequently lower the number of diseases associated with an unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyle.

According to a report on the Black Girls RUN! website, blacks are 2.2 times as likely as whites to die from diabetes. They are 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease and 60 percent more likely to have a stroke.

The national organization was the brainchild of Toni Carey and Ashley Hicks, both of Atlanta, in 2009. There are now thousands of women involved. Leonard says the local chapter had 208 members.

She said that, unfortunately, not all of the women participate the way they should.

Riley said the group hopes to educate women about health and fitness and provide a support system to help them reach their goals. She said the women talk about nutrition and she hopes to have some professional speakers address the group in the future.

Leonard said a reason for the high percentage of obesity is that blacks are 70 percent less likely to engage in physical activity.

"Women need to exercise and eat properly," Riley said. "We want to encourage not just African-American women, but all women, to get healthy. That means exercising and eating properly," Riley said.

Natasha Graham, 32, of Fort Mitchell, Ala., loves the running.

"We get together on Sundays, but individuals run on other days too. It is easier if you have someone to run with." Graham said. "I think it helps to have somebody giving encouragement."

The group meets on Sundays at the Manchester Park and Ride on the Manchester Expressway. From there they go running on the trail.

"We don't put too much emphasis on the word run," Riley said. "Walking is just fine."

"No woman gets left behind," Leonard said, laughing.

Leonard said helping people get on a schedule is important and members help each other. She said women must do something different if they want to improve their situation.

Riley said the women often talk about nutrition. She is hoping to have some experts speak to the members.

Leonard said that 208 women have joined; not that many are regular participants.

"We are always hoping for better participation," she said.

Graham, who has a 5-year-old daughter, Ivy, said it is important for women to eat healthy and exercise and pass the importance of both to their children.

"Learn about a healthy lifestyle while young and keep living that way forever," Graham said.

Graham knows the running does her good.

"It is great for relieving stress," she said.

Those interested should visit the website www.blackgirlsrun.com or the Black Girls RUN! Facebook page.

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