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September 1, 2014, 7:43 am

Running group urges women to get moving

There’s a movement afoot to get women to lace up their sneakers and get active.

Toni Carey and Ashley Hicks are on a mission to encourage African American women to make fitness and healthy living a priority.

Back in 2009, Carey and Hicks started a blog titled Black Girls RUN!, where they shared their running adventures and what they were doing to be healthy. Hicks was spurred to start running because she was facing her own weight loss challenges. Hicks, who used to play soccer during her collegiate years, started gaining weight after college.

The blog has since grown into a movement to combat the growing obesity epidemic in the African-American community, and provide encouragement to new and veteran runners.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 80 percent of African-American women are overweight. BGR! is working to lower that percentage and the number of women with chronic diseases associated with an unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyle.

In 2011, the organizers of BGR! took their message beyond the Internet and launched running groups across the nation.

“That’s when we were able to take off and really build a community and bring in a lot of new runners — people who have never run a day in their lives,” says Hicks.

The movement has grown to encompass about 25,000 members and 60 running groups in 30 states.

“We’ve grown tremendously in a year. This is surprising for both of us, and we’re really excited about it,” Hicks said.

Hicks said women should not be intimidated by the name Black Girls RUN!

“It’s free and open to all levels of runners. We take walkers, joggers — whatever it is you do,” she said.

When Jocelyn Wright was looking for a way to become physically active, she turned to BGR!

“I was typically an active person but as I got older, that level of activity slowed down, so I was looking for a means to become active again,” said Wright, who ran track in high school.

She’s been a member of the BGR! Philadelphia Chapter for more than a year and currently serves as its lead ambassador. Since joining, Wright has encountered women who have given her a tremendous amount of support. In addition to the health benefits, Wright says many women have formed friendships through the experience.

“I’m very pleased to be involved with BGR! both locally and nationally,” says Wright.

“We always say, take the first step and we’ll be here to support you throughout your journey.”

The Philadelphia chapter has about approximately 1,800 members and is experiencing steady growth.

The group hosts a big meet up at 8 a.m. Saturday mornings on Kelly Drive, where women are invited to walk, jog or run. They also host “hood runs” where they run in communities around the city such as West Philadelphia, South Philadelphia and West Oak Lane.

Throughout the summer, the group will hold runs in different neighborhoods throughout the city on the third Saturday of the month.

The founders of BGR are visiting Philadelphia for the Blogging While Brown conference on June 1 and 2.

For membership information, visit www.blackgirlsrun.com.