Many athletes have as hard a time keeping in shape and looking buffed as many of us do. Some football and baseball players don’t even look like athletes. Their huge guts resemble those of the guys next door, but in football, there are some positions where size and girth are necessary. It accentuates their strength. 

With all of that surprising girth, they work out strenuously to make teams and compete. There are many of us who don’t. A group of women from Harlem Hospital are changing that by walking several days a week as a group during lunch from 135th to 125th and back, along Malcolm X Boulevard.

Like athletes, they’re competing, but to finish each session, competing with themselves to improve their health and their stamina, and to bring more awareness to the health issues that plague our Harlem community, as well as the surrounding areas. They’ve partnered with GirlTrek, a national not-for-profit organization that inspires and organizes African-American women and girls whose communities are most at risk for obesity-related illnesses. The organization encourages its participants to live healthier and more fulfilled lives.

“It’s wonderful walking with women that encourage and inspire you to be your best self,” said Andrea Edusei, an assistant coordinating manager. “You start to look forward to it.”

For Edusei, it’s not a competition. It’s cheerleading. “It’s a sisterhood, women who are your cheerleaders,” she said. “Women who help you reach your goal. Women who believe in you when you lack belief in yourself. Women that strengthen and cheer you on, reinforcing that ‘I am my sister’s keeper.’”

“Our community’s understanding of the causal factors of how disease processes is poor,” said Eboné M. Carrington, CEO/COO of NYC Health and Hospitals, the new expanded name for Harlem Hospital.  “It’s generational and comes from poor access to fresh food and produce, years of poor diet and, in some cases, a lack of alternatives are also contributory factors.”

Carrington posed these questions that in some form or another, has at times, entered many of our minds: Do I walk? Do I take a cab? Do I ride my bike?

The basic health needs of the Harlem community haven’t changed, been revised or upgraded because of its recent gentrification. “Gym memberships are a luxury that some of our patients cannot afford,” Carrington noted. “Therefore, we encourage free programming, or exactly what this is: ‘Get out and take a walk.’” And that is what these moms, caregivers and heads of households are doing, while at the same time becoming more aware of their activities and their diets. One woman admits to never walking a block uninterrupted until now.

“I grew up in a rural section of Jamaica, West Indies, where schools were like a million miles away,” said Pauline Harding. “We walked to and from school every day, and on Sundays to Sunday School and church. I vowed that when I grew up, I would have a car and never trek again. For a very long time I did exactly that.  Then GirlTrek entered my life and changed all that.  I am trekking again for health, stamina, a clear mind, and I am having fun.”