PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department has teamed up with the Department of Health to take on health disparities by creating a first of its kind running club. The athletes will put their skills to the test this weekend.
“Keep your toe pointed and open your hips,” instructed Leslie Marant. Known as “Coach Lez,” she works with Philly Powered a city-run initiative that encourages citizens to become active in their own neighborhoods.
She helped to start the Strawberry Mansion Running Club 10 weeks ago, recruiting an unlikely group of athletes.
“A lot of them were hesitant, we had some people with canes,” she says, “we had some folks with hip problems and we quickly realized that running was not going to happen here– but we started with them where they were.”
The club meets every Tuesday in East Fairmount Park and every Tuesday, the group grew. Now there are more than 20 members. The club is the first ever created for the purpose of combating health disparities. A recent study published by Virginia Commonwealth University predicts that babies born in Strawberry Mansion live 20 few years than those born just five miles away in Center City. The goal of this fitness group in Strawberry Mansion is to change that.
“It’s intimidating and challenging and exciting at the same time,” says Charisse Tucker, 44. She joined the club at the outset with the hope of dealing with excess weight that has caused hypertension and other health problems.
“I’ll be 45 in a couple weeks,” she says, “I am having to think about my health very differently.”
“It makes me feel good because I need to start working out,” says Luqman Phillips, 55. He is one of the newest members of the walking club. His goal is to lose 35 pounds and gain energy at the same time.
“It clears my mind,” he says, “and I made some new friends too.”
“This is a community that is typically under served– these health disparities are real,” says Marant, who notes lack of access to health care facilities and fresh foods, lower income levels, safety issues and other problems help create the health disparities. But neighborhoods like Strawberry Mansion have valuable green space that make taking on these statistics a bit easier.
“You don’t have to have a gym membership, you don’t have to have a lot of money, you can take advantage of the resources right in your neighborhood,” she says.
“It really can be life changing,” says Katherine Ott Lovett, commissioner of the Philadelphia’s Parks and Recreations. She says the athletes will put their skills to the test at the Boxer Trail 5K on Saturday.
“A lot of people do not realize they have this treasure right outside their own front door or back yard,” she says.
The Boxer Trail is the same used by Smokin’ Joe Frazier in the past. With it’s rolling hills, it’s challenging enough for experienced runners and it’s close proximity makes it the perfect practice ground for Strawberry Mansion resident.
“I’m looking forward to it,” says Phillips.
“It’s never too late to make changes,” says Tucker, “I know these changes will continue after the Saturday.”
To sign up, click here.