For years, Alisa Wright Colopy ran, logging dozens of miles each week as she trained for marathons and triathlons. It was a solitary endeavor: She spent a lot of time alone, with only her thoughts to keep her company.
These days, Wright Colopy’s quest to lead a healthy lifestyle is more social. When she’s not coaching the track team at Saint Mary’s School in Raleigh, she is organizing events for Fit & Able Productions, a nonprofit she started in Cary 17 years ago.
On Saturday, the group will host a track meet at Cary Academy for everyone from experienced runners to novices.
“It becomes about other people,” said Wright Colopy, 56, who now serves as a sort of go-to fitness guru in Cary.
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Wright Colopy didn’t take an interest in athletics until college. She decided to go out for a run one day and realized she was pretty good at it. So she kept running, taking part in hundreds of races over the years.
She earned degrees in psychology and sociology and was working as a college administrator in Connecticut when her husband’s job in the pharmaceutical industry moved the family to Cary in 1996.
At the time, Wright Colopy said, she read about a report that showed North Carolina’s children were among the least physically fit in the country. With two sons of her own, she felt compelled to make a difference.
So she worked for eight years as the middle school fitness coordinator at the Cary Family YMCA, along with starting Fit & Able Productions. She also served as a track and field and cross country coach at Cary Academy for two years.
The responsibility to help keep kids healthy doesn’t solely fall on parents, Wright Colopy said. Schools, towns and YMCAs need to be involved.
“When you look at the health of children, it is a community issue,” Wright Colopy said.
Her efforts to make young people excited about fitness didn’t go unnoticed. In 2000, the U.S. Olympic Committee named her the developmental coach of the year in triathlons.
And in 2009, Wright Colopy won Cary’s Hometown Spirit Award.
As a mother, Wright Colopy made fitness a family effort. Her sons ran track at Cary Academy, and both took part in sports at the College of William & Mary in Virginia.
Her older son, Travis Wright Colopy, ran his first road race when he was 2 1/2 years old.
“The number took up his whole chest,” she said.
Now 27 with a law degree, Travis Wright Colopy is the executive director of Fit & Able Productions. The nonprofit hosts corporate games for businesses that want to take part in team-building exercises.
The group also partnered with the town of Cary for the Cary Games, a series of athletic events. In January, the Games kicked off with a table-tennis tournament at the Cary Senior Center.
Next month, the Explore the Greenways program will meet on Sundays and will allow participants to run or walk.
“It helps people see the different parts of Cary and how extensive the greenway system is,” Travis Wright Colopy said.
Dwayne Johnson, recreation manager for Cary, said it makes sense for the town to join forces with Fit & Able.
“We share common goals, which is to get people moving,” he said.
Not always about winning
The goal isn’t to convince everybody to run a marathon. Alisa Wright Colopy said people need to set reasonable goals for themselves.
The ultimate reward, she said, is reaching that goal.
Winning isn’t the biggest focus, said Maddie Wood, 17, a senior at Saint Mary’s School who trains with “Coach Alisa.”
“She’s one of the most motivational people I’ve ever met,” Wood said.
Cynthia Coleman, also a 17-year-old senior on Saint Mary’s track team, said she doesn’t necessarily want to be a lifelong competitive athlete. But the coach helped show her the value of a healthy lifestyle.
“It’s just day-to-day being healthy,” Coleman said.
Alisa Wright Colopy still runs, although not as much as she did when she was training. She also lifts weights and uses a stair climber.
Mostly, she turns her efforts outward. But there’s still something about running.
“I like that freedom,” she said. “I can go as far as I want to go.”