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Strolling with Soul

by  V. Sheree Williams on May 31, 2013
Strolling with Soul

It is a beautiful sight if you ever get to see it.  More than 2000 African-Americans out in the park on windy Saturday morning gathering health information from more than 50 organizations and preparing to walk one, three or five miles with this year’s honorary chair, Aaron G. Perry, the world’s first African-American diabetic to complete an Ironman Triathlon and retired NBA star Dominique Wilkins.

The vision of Soul Stroll in 2002 was simply to celebrate churches that completed eight weeks of physical activity in partnership with the African American Community Health Advisory Committee founded by Gloria Brown in San Mateo, Calif.  Brown and the churches decided to have a small walk and lunch at Coyote Park and at the suggestion of one participant invited others in the community to join in and with the assistance of another, Stedman Graham was secured for what is now called an honorary chair and the rest is history.  The event started off with 500 people and today is surpasses 2000 each year. 

It’s a fun day, a family day, a day to put your health first and just enjoy being in the company of others who want to do the same.   “We want to just go into communities and help communities to become healthier and stronger through physical activity and eating properly. That is our goal,” says Brown who is a retired nutritionist.

Each year an honorary chair is selected to not only draw participants but to encourage them on their journey of health and wellness.  Over the years, Danny Glover, Ben Vereen, Donna Richardson and Dr. Ian Smith, to name a few, have joined what is being a called a movement to get more African-Americans to become active.

Perry was honored as this year’s chair and joined Brown and strollers from Madison, Wis. Diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 29, Perry admits that it was not until he was 41 that he decided to truly take control of the disease after a visit to his doctor.  Perry recalls the doctor in essence saying, “’Aaron, we have been doing this dance for about 10 years.’ And the dance he was referring is me showing up, me having my lab work done, showing up for my appointment and having him tell me that my diabetes is out of control.”  He advised him to exercise and Perry took it a step further and mentioned the Ironman Triathlon. “No one but myself believed that I could do it. No one,” says Perry which included his doctor who said the sporting event was for “serious athletes.”  That along with a sarcastic “good luck” lit a fire underneath Perry to not only prove to others that he could do it, but to himself and he completed his first one in September of 2005.

If you’re not familiar with an Ironman Triathlon, all you need to know is that within 17 hours, one must complete a 2.4 mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and a full 26.2 marathon (in this order).  In addition to a grueling training scheduled, discipline is also the name of the game.  “The neat thing along the way is that when you start putting in this type of training, you want to be healthy. You want to be healthier,” says Perry in reference to his training that also included letting others know he was diabetic and how to assist him should he become lightheaded or experience other incidents related to having diabetes.

"I decided to do the Ironman because for one I had watched the Ironman 2000-2004 and every year that I watched, I got hungrier and hungrier because it is so inspirational and I don’t know it would touch me. Particularly when I would see people crossing the finish line and the emotion that they displayed and I said ‘man, I want to experience that,'" says Perry who didn’t know how to swim, hadn’t biked more than five miles or ran more than four miles at a time when he started training.

On race day, Perry was more than 40 pounds lighter with 5% body fat as compared to 36%.  In addition, along the way others began to take notice and he noticed he was inspiring others to make healthier changes. 

Today he is known as the first African-American diabetic to complete not one but two full Ironman and four half Ironman Triathlons. In addition, he launched Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association to help improve the health of African-Americans living with diabetes and receives emails from individuals all over the country who are seeking advice on what to do after receiving their diagnosis. 

After hosting a variety of community events, Perry connected with Brown this year after finding the website for AACHAC and Soul Stroll and decided this would be an event he would bring to Madison. This month on June 14 and June 15 Perry will host the city’s first Soul Stroll For Health Heroes Reception and Walk.  Everyone near or far is encouraged to come out.  Registration is $15 in advance or $20 on the day of the event and includes access to speak with health vendors, a T-shirt, post-walk snacks and a seat to the Soul Stroll Comedy Show featuring Dannon Green.  For more information, to register or to volunteer, visit www.rebalanced-life.org.

Brown has also successfully launched Soul Stroll in Sacramento, Calif. and Tempe, Ariz. with more cities on the horizon in the upcoming years. Sacramento’s will take place on August 10 and Tempe’s is every over year and will resume next year in 2014.  For information about Soul Stroll Sacramento, visit www.aachac.org.

For individuals interested in learning how to bring Soul Stroll to their city, please contact Brown at 650.696.4378 and let’s keep this movement growing.

Photo credit: V. Sheree Publishing

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