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Fort4Fitness countdown
Look for a Sept. 26 preview section highlighting activities related to Fort4Fitness.
Check out Foot Traffic, a blog by The Journal Gazette’s Kimberly Dupps Truesdell, as she prepares for the half marathon. Find it at

Steps for fitness

Increasing obesity rates among Hoosiers are cause for anxiety. But record-breaking participation in several programs intended to give Fort Wayne residents more opportunities to do something fun and healthy offer hope.

“It’s a success because people are looking for ways to take that first step toward a healthy lifestyle,” said Brad Kimmel, Fort4Fitness executive director. “Fort4- Fitness’ mission is to remove some of those barriers – whether it’s cost or intimidation or whatever.”

He said the program started as a response to those studies and magazine articles that labeled Fort Wayne one of the nation’s fattest and dumbest cities. A small group took those labels as a challenge.

Registration for the sixth annual Fort4Fitness Festival closed Sunday with a record 10,136 participants signed up for the five events scheduled Sept. 27 and 28. The events include a half marathon, 10k walk/run, 4-mile walk/run, a kids’ marathon and a seniors’ marathon. Each finishes at home plate at Parkview Field.

“Each year we’ve had an increase in participation,” Kimmel said. “I think that’s because we’ve made a focus on making it a welcoming event. We’ve gone from 3,000 in 2008 to well over 10,000, making us second only to the Indianapolis 500 mini-marathon as far as race events in Indiana.

“We are fortunate to see the steady growth of those local fitness opportunities – like the trails. So, we can continue to give people those gentle steps they can take to get into the habit of a healthier lifestyle.”

The city’s Trek the Trails program is another example of success.

Mayor Tom Henry introduced the program four years ago when the economy was lagging as an opportunity for residents to do something that was free, fun and healthy. The bike tours of the Fort Wayne Trails are also an opportunity to learn something; each is a guided tour.

For example, the last tour in this year’s series is the Stargazing Trail Tour on Oct. 1. It is co-sponsored by the Fort Wayne Astronomical Society and includes telescopes along the route so that participants can view the stars. The 8-mile stargazing ride is 7:30 p.m. with participants meeting near Pavilion 1 in Foster Park.

There is also a ride at 6 p.m. Sept. 24, meeting in the parking lot near the old swimming pool in Swinney Park West.

Frank Suarez, spokesman for the city’s public works and utilities division, said the first year there were 13 rides scheduled for Tuesday evenings, but they were so popular they added five more rides. This year they scheduled 27 rides, including some longer rides on Saturdays and rides that featured mixers and local food trucks.

Every year more people have participated. In 2010, 1,241 people participated in the rides. As of Tuesday, 1,658 people already have participated in 2013 with three rides left.

“People tend to stick to the trails near their home,” Suarez said. “This is a good way to try something new because the rides are safe, they are guided.”

Suarez said the rides attract all types of people and all types of bikes, from “bikes you might see in an antique store to the latest and best models.” And he said many people have voiced appreciation that everybody shows a lot of patience for those people participating in the rides who are new to bike riding.

Kimmel said Fort4Fitness also seeks to attract people new to fitness events.

“Each year, and this year will hold true to form, at least 20 percent of the participants have never done an organized walk or run,” Kimmel said. “The point is whether you finish first or not, you’ve accomplished something. People who finish first usually stick around to cheer on those who are doing it for the first time. The point is to create a certain atmosphere and community spirit.”

Part of that community spirit is raising money for local charities.

“Last year we collectively raised $175,000 for different organizations in the community,” Kimmel said. “This year I’ll assume it’s going to be bigger. This year over 2,000 participants are signed up to run for a designated charity. It gives them a reason. It becomes so much more valuable because not only are they doing it for themselves, they are doing it for a bigger cause. Before it’s done it’s not only raised money for area non-profits, it’s a celebration of our downtown and our community.”

Trek the Trails and Fort4Fitness are proof that Fort Wayne residents are neither dumb nor lazy given the right opportunities.