There is no good reason why somebody struggling with housing, mental health or addiction issues can’t be physically active. But any one of these issues make it a challenge for people to stay committed to healthy lifestyle choices.
More than 50 people who have identified themselves as struggling with one or more of the above issues will be among the estimated 12,000 participants in Sunday’s Times Colonist 10K.
They are members of Every Step Counts, an innovative walk and run group founded by the Victoria Foundation and hosted by the Victoria Cool Aid Society. Participants meet twice a week to take part in a guided training walk or run.
The program, now in its fourth year, is based on the belief that there are far-reaching benefits to exercise and teamwork, including improved self-esteem, confidence, energy and the adoption of a healthier lifestyle.
Those who would like to participate but are unable to afford new shoes are fitted with used running shoes that have been donated by other runners and collected and distributed by Frontrunners, a Victoria running-equipment store.
“We’re open to anyone,” said Gillie Easdon, the program co-ordinator. “We meet twice a week to run, stretch and then have healthy food, such as homemade salads. Participants get good exercise and good food.”
While physical activity and treats are inducements, the program shines because of its social component. Its all-inclusive nature means a diverse cross-section of society at weekly meetings.
“I come to the meetings to socialize,” said Fred, 26, who was willing to talk, but without using his real name. “I suffer from social anxiety [disorder]. I was overwhelmed at first, but being a part of the program has been helpful. It is helpful because, at the meetings, we all are on equal footing.”
He recently joined the program and was surprised at how fast he was.
“It was eye-opening,” said Fred, who lives in a transitional shelter. “This program has been a real stepping stone for me.”
The group uses the TC 10K as a benchmark for its members, a chance for them to run and walk in step with the public. While some, like Fred, will run, others have far more modest goals.
“I have never been athletic my whole life,” said Colleen, 55, who is overweight and has been sidelined with serious health issues for the past seven years.
“I was always the last kid to be picked on a team.”
She says that when she joined the program, she could walk only two blocks with a cane and was always at the back of the pack, huffing and puffing. Since she joined Every Step Counts, she has lost about 25 pounds, replaced the cane with a pair of Nordic poles — and leads the pack.
Last August, she walked her first five kilometres. In October, she was up to eight and now she is confident she can walk the TC 10K route with no problem.
“It has made a tremendous difference in my life,” she said. “I now get a good night’s sleep.”
She has made significant progress, she knows she still has a ways to go, but is thrilled with her progress.
“It has been a long journey to get to the point where I am right now,” she said. “I am still overweight but I didn’t gain it overnight, so I won’t lose it overnight either.”
For more information, visit coolaid.org.
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Registration deadline for the TC10K is Wednesday at midnight. Go to tc10k.ca