Midtown Raleigh News

Midtown fitness offer community and connection

Participants in the Southeast Raleigh Assembly's Mini Dancing in the Park series get down inside the Chavis Park Community Center. By the fourth weekly session, the number of participants grew from 12 to more than 60.
Participants in the Southeast Raleigh Assembly's Mini Dancing in the Park series get down inside the Chavis Park Community Center. By the fourth weekly session, the number of participants grew from 12 to more than 60. PHOTO COURTESY OF JACQUE ALLEN

Our relationship with fitness is a one-way street. Decisions to eat healthy and exercise, and the motivation to do it - and to stick to it, depend on us, alone.

But the journey is far from lonely.

At the start of 2012, I wrote about bricks I’ve begun laying on my own road to fitness, born of realities of age and mortality, genes and dreams. Then, I was immersed in personal training with a group of women I now call friends.

Now, I’ve entered a phase of practicing what I preach in that first sentence up there: relying on my own want, need and trust of the process, of “getting it in” without a scheduled session or pact or a bill to justify, of pushing myself when I’d simply rather not challenge my comfort in the skin I’m in.

So, I’ve been making my rounds in Midtown.

I’ve been part of a team led by master trainer Tia D. Williams whose Fitness to Fabulous launched in September with reasonably-priced, weekly outdoor and indoor boot camps.

But I’ve also found some other you’d-be-crazy-not-to-go-Lori workouts – for free. One is an intense, all-fitness-levels boot camp led every Saturday morning by master trainer Olo Onuma of Onuma Fitness at The Dream Center on Fox Road. And just last Monday, I tackled a Zumba workout I’ve been eyeing at Chavis Park Community Center.

And I find myself among hundreds of all ages, races and fitness IQs. Sure, my cursory surveys merely outline Midtown, but what’s trending in news and on burgeoning social media sites reveal multi-thousands of us nationwide, building sisterhoods – with some brothers, too – to get fit and feel good.

Looking good is undoubtedly a bonus.

“It’s great to see all of us togetherall of us working out,” said Julia Matthews-McClain, an N.C. State University executive assistant who turns 50 this year. “We’re all on our own journey, but we’re striving for the same goal: just to stay healthy, mentally and physically.”

That’s more than a mouthful spoken in parts of both Midtown and Southeast Raleigh, where food desert designations and other signs of poverty make it a hotbed for disease and ailments fueled by an unhealthy living.

I met Julia at the free, Mini Dancing in the Park Zumba class at Chavis center. It’s an indoor off-shoot of the Southeast Raleigh Assembly’s free Dancing in the Park outdoor series. For each of its four, 8-week seasons from June-August, the series recorded 300 people each week.

“We wanted to target cardiovascular health and fitness, and give people a chance to come and work out for free,” said Quintin Murphy who oversees the SERA series. The growth in numbers at outdoor sessions made the indoor sessions a no-brainer. In just four classes, Murphy said, the room blossomed from 12 to more than 60.

“It tells me that, with the state of economics, not everybody can afford a gym membership, but it’s something they want – and it’s something they want to continue doing,” Murphy said. “That’s huge.”

Jacque Allen transformed her lifestyle to lose 90 pounds. She now leads Mini Dancing in the Park and will take over the summer jam sessions, too. Allen, a Shaw University alum who played basketball and volleyball there, believes the growing prevalence of real-life stories like hers make fitness goals more tangible for all.

“People are starting to see it really happening, to see people they know transform their lives, right before t heir eyes, so they believe they can do it, too,” said Allen, 40, now a personal trainer and owner of Z-Fitness with Jacque Inc. “I feel fabulous. It’s the best thing that ever happened.”

Ron Bolling is getting his steps in order at the Chavis mini-sessions.

“It’s a good thing,” said Bolling, 63, who told me while we fumbled a few Zumba steps it was his fourth class. “It’s beneficial to me. I feel better. It gets your blood to flowing and keeps you alert.”

Then, he quipped, “I was expecting some more men to come, but so far I hadn’t gotten any company.”

More men are counted at the free boot camp Onuma offers that began January 11 and ends March 15.

Although the free boot camps help build his brand and business, Onuma, 32, points to a more important reason.

“It’s an extra incentive for people who already are ready and willing to do something, but have been holding back, to come on out since it is free,” he said.

Onuma let me in on a surprise, too: once the free boot camps end and his training costs for more frequent, tailored training, “I am still going to run the free boot camp once a month,” he said. “I’m enjoying it so much myself.”