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20130526 bikers SH

Fort4Fitness trying to keep city healthy

– They began lining up and inching toward the start a little before 9 a.m.

Some toted bicycles and sported fashionable gear that probably set them back thousands of dollars. Some brought what looked like machines that had been dug out of a garage after a several-year hiatus.

Some were there to race, to test the limits of their legs and resolve.

Some were there for fun and to weave their way through city and rural streets with friends and family under the Memorial Day weekend sunshine.

Whatever their reason, Fort Wayne’s fitness culture was on full display Saturday morning as hundreds of bicycle riders of all ages took part in the second annual Fort4Fitness Spring Cycle.

And yes, Fort Wayne, ranked at various times as being among the country’s fattest cities, among the dumbest cities and among the most artery-clogged cities, does have a fitness culture.

One that looks to be growing.

“The numbers are increasing,” Brad Kimmel, Fort4Fitness executive, said of this year’s participation in the Spring Cycle and the increase officials are seeing yearly at the organization’s fall event, which includes half-marathon and 10K running races as well as a four mile run/walk.

“There is an increasing interest in being active,” he continued.

In 2002, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked Fort Wayne as one of the country’s fattest cities, something that actually sparked Fort4Fitness into being, according to Kimmel.

Kimmel, who had just retired from the military at the time, said he happened to be meeting with then-mayor Graham Richard about an unrelated topic when that ranking came out.

He said people from the local Chamber of Commerce were there talking about ways to improve the look and feel of the city.

Soon, the idea for Fort4Fitness was born, and the first fall race took place in 2008.

“I thought, ‘We can sit around and complain, or write a letter to the editor. Or, we can take this on as a challenge,’ ” Kimmel said. “ ‘Let’s see what we can do to spark interest.’ ”

Fort Wayne still found its place on a litany of undesirable lists and rankings shortly after the CDC ranking.

In 2005 Men’s Health called it the dumbest city in America. Prevention magazine ranked the city among the most obese and No. 2 in the “most artery-clogging cities in America” category in 2011.

Last year, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being index placed Fort Wayne as the 26th most obese city in the country and fattest in Indiana.

Meanwhile, people began signing up to take part in various running and bike races throughout the city.

There were already plenty of running races people could take part in, but more and more began to be organized. More opportunities for people to get active began to spring up in the last decade or so.

“The range of events has grown wider,” said City Councilman Mitch Harper, R-4th, who organizes several running events including the popular Galloping Gobbler. “Some of that is people want to put on a 5K race for something they’re involved in.”

Some of these races are not so much athletic events as they are celebrations, Harper said.

They have a festival atmosphere, and people use these events in their weight loss goals or to just have fun.

Plus, Harper said, the country as a whole is going through a second running boom, and the numbers bear that out.

According to Running USA, a not-for-profit organization that looks at running trends, the number of people who took part in road races grew from roughly 8.6 million in 2000 to 13.9 million in 2011.

A major factor in that rise is the number of women who are taking part in road races, which is now regularly more than the number of men who compete.

Locally, Harper said, an increase in city runners could be attributed to the Three Rivers Running Co., which opened in 2004.

“It gave (runners) a place to hang out and gave running a boost in the community,” Harper said.

Runners might not be the only ones who have their numbers growing in the community, though.

Saturday, about 1,200 bicyclists took part in the Spring Cycle, up from about 1,000 who participated in last year’s event.

“There’s a percentage of people who don’t find walking and running the strong point of what they do,” Kimmel said of one of the reasons behind the creation of the bicycle event.

Riders had several tours to choose from Saturday – 18 miles, 33 miles or 43 miles.

Some who opted for the longer tours were treated to the sites of rural Allen County, where they passed cows and pigs who would look up from an afternoon of eating and stare as the cyclists passed their line of sight.

There was the occasional braying horse, as well, or little girls who would sit up on wooded fences and watch the riders fly by.

For Kimmel, he was hoping it was an event that would maybe catch the attention of those who did not participate this year, but will take part in next year’s race.

“We’re steadily growing the right way toward healthier lifestyles,” Kimmel said.

And with more active people, maybe Fort Wayne can finally outrun the city’s reputation bestowed upon it by the occasional obesity ranking or study-du-jour.