Online Running Community Gets This Employee Outside and Moving

September 13, 2016 by Kavita Sherman, writer

Online Running Community Gets This Employee Outside and Moving

For the last 5 years, Judy Dawson-Jones, director of Nursing at Akron Children’s Hospital, has been on a mission to improve her health and fitness. Although she was steadily losing weight on her own, she wanted a support network on which she could rely.

In October 2015, she found what she was looking for: an online community called Black Girls RUN! (BGR). The 5-year-old group, founded in Atlanta, Ga., provides encouragement and resources to help African-American women make fitness and healthy living a priority.

Online Running Community Gets This Employee Outside and Moving

“I always wanted to run and never thought I could until I was exposed to this group,” Judy said. “I joined in October, 2015, as a birthday gift to myself.”

Judy had lost 85 pounds on her way to a 135-pound weight loss goal, only to regain 20 pounds. Different stressors in her life, such as being the caregiver to her mom and working full-time, created setbacks, sometimes making it difficult for her to take care of herself. Through her involvement with BGR, she’s back on track.

“Being in the health field, we preach a lot about a healthy lifestyle, but we have to live what we preach,” she said.

The turning point came a few years ago when she attended a health screening at Akron Children’s. The screening assesses employees’ health risks by measuring their blood pressure, cholesterol (including total cholesterol, HDL, LDL and triglycerides), resting heart rate, body mass index and blood glucose level.

Online Running Community Gets This Employee Outside and Moving

“The health screener and I were looking at my numbers and I was saying that I wanted to get fit,” Judy said. “The screener said, ‘Yeah, do it now. You don’t have as much time to turn around things that are negatively impacting your health the older you get.’ It caused me to think more about my own health in relation to my age. Even though I don’t have any co-morbidities, cancer and heart disease run in my family. I knew that if you pick up those diseases at this stage of the game, it’s tough to turn it around.”

Many things about Black Girls RUN! appeal to Judy, including the fact that it’s free and open to anyone. The group specifically targets African-American women, however, because more than two-thirds of that population is overweight and/or obese, thereby exposing them to a number of chronic diseases.

Plus, as caregivers for their families, many of these women are in a position to be healthy role models to their children.

Online Running Community Gets This Employee Outside and Moving

“People thinks its exclusive, but it’s not,” she said. “You’ll find all kinds of women in the group. It started because African-American women felt intimidated about running and didn’t have any forums available to teach them the best ways to begin running.”

As a nationwide movement, BGR reaches women through its website, blog, Facebook and local groups, which meet to run. More than 160,000-plus women have pledged to be part of the movement.

“We currently have chapters all over the country, including 3 in Ohio: Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland, which encompasses Akron,” she said. “They run during the week and many women race every weekend. That’s what they do. They run. It builds accountability and helps set goals.”

Judy started with BGR’s Walk Before You Run program and at her “graduation,” she and 50 BGR newcomers participated in the annual Reindeer Run 5K event in Lakewood, Ohio. She’s since run in a half dozen 5K’s, one 10K and the Niagara Falls Women’s Half Marathon in June, 2016, with 2,100-plus women.

Online Running Community Gets This Employee Outside and Moving

“One thing that impressed me at the Niagara Falls race was the way BGR’s motto, no one left behind, was put into action,” Judy said. “We were done and someone said, ‘Hey, the last girl is coming.’ She was walking the last leg to finish the race, even though it had ended. She had been out there for more than 5 hours and was determined to finish. Two or 3 people went up to her and she started running. They ran with her. The rest of us, about 60 people, we were cheering for her. For me, it was the most inspirational part of the race.”

Even though Judy doesn’t yet think of herself as a runner, she says her mindset about her capabilities have shifted.

“What I’ve learned through this is that it’s an ongoing process to become healthier,” she said. “It’s a mind change and a lifestyle change. It’s about starting something and finishing it, no matter how much doubt you have. I’m going to live this next set of my life healthier than before. I know that every moment is precious.”

This story is part of a series called A Mile in Their Shoes that features Akron Children’s Hospital employees who are participating in the Akron Marathon Race Series.

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