In this episode of Peachtree Corners Life, Rico chats with Dr. Barbara Joy Jones, D.O. She is the lead physician at the new GMC Primary Care & Specialty Center. Barbara gives some insight into the field of medicine, diving into the similarities and differences of being a doctor of osteopathy versus doctor of medicine, the timeshare structure of their multi-specialty clinic, and the growing use of CBD in medicine. She also shares her personal journey into medicine, and we learn about how she went from pursuing a career in modeling to becoming a doctor.
“When I was younger – so my name is Barbara, and I have an Aunt Barbara who we call Aunt Babs, and my grandma was named Barbara as well. When I was younger, I used to give my grandma massages, and she told me, ‘You have healing hands.’ And at the time, I didn’t understand what that meant. I didn’t understand at the time. But it seemed as other doors were closed, path to medicine was open. It didn’t have its obstacles, but I got into medical school, I passed all the boards and I just – I had a heart for healing. And the gift of mercy. So I was – it was always important. And I really enjoyed people’s stories.”Dr. Barbara Joy Jones, D.O.
Transcript of the podcast:
Rico [01:18 ]: Hi everyone, this is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners life, and also the publisher of Peachtree Corners Magazine. We’re here with a special guest today. Her is Dr. Barbara Joy Jones, DO. And she is with the GMC Primary Care Provider that just opened. They took over – for those people in Peachtree Corners who know well, it used to be the old Ippolito’s restaurant. You would never know. I mean, they gutted out the whole thing, and it looks beautiful inside. We’ll show you some pictures later. But I’d like you to introduce yourself a little bit to the listeners, the audience here. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Barbara [01:53 ]: Hello everybody, I am Dr. Barbara Joy Jones, thank you Rico for the introduction, and I am the lead physician at Primary Care and Multi-specialty Clinic in Peachtree Corners. We used to be Gwinnett Medical Center, and now we are Northside. This is day 2 of officially being Northside. And I am the lead physician, and I’m primary care, which means I’m diapers to depends, and I’m there five days a week. And then we have timeshares of specials that work on the other side. So we have gastroenterology, OBGYN, orthopedics, I think we’re bringing in neurology. And cardiology.
Rico [02:31 ]: That’s amazing. When I first visited, they had the great opening and, we walked through there, I found out there were time-sharing specialists? I didn’t realize that’s how some of these practices work. So they can be quite a few specialties, specialists, and you don’t have to leave the primary care facility.
Barbara [02:54 ]: Yeah, there’s been examples of a person who had a heart condition, very common atrial fibrillation, needed a heart check up. I finished my exam and walked them across the hall to the cardiologist. Easy.
Rico [03:05 ]: Okay, look at that. You don’t have to go out 30 minutes to somewhere else or make another appointment or something. Really great place. Tell us a little bit about you personally, too. Where you come from, who you are, a little bit about yourself.
Barbara [03:18 ]: Gotcha. So I am a military brat – Air Force. My father was in the air force, and I was born at West Point. Mother’s from Thailand. And I have three siblings – parents had four kids in five years. And I played basketball at Charleston Southern University in the Big South. So after three years, I told my dad – “Hey, I want to model and act,” so he sent me up to Los Angeles. And I failed at that. Door closed right away. So I was like, “Okay, well at least I tried.” And I went and finished my degree at Loyola Marymount University. So spent two years out there finishing my degree. And then moved back to Georgia, applied to medical school, and got into medical school in Gwinnett at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine at Georgia campus, which has been open since 2005. And then, I renewed my lease to my apartment when I got accepted to Gwinnett Medical Center’s residency program for family medicine, and I was one of the five guinea pigs. The first five, and we were all women, and now there’s 61 residents on the campus, and two sports medicine fellows.
Rico [04:27 ]: So you live in Gwinnett County.
Barbara [04:29 ]: I do. I live in Duluth. I love Gwinnett. If I could be here lifelong, I would. And one thing I wanted to clarify – I have a DO behind my name. So the difference between a DO and MD is, there are a million fully-functioning physicians in the county, meaning can perform surgery, can deliver babies, can prescribe narcotics and Benzodiazepine. 108 thousand of us are DOs. So that means, in medical school, we learn manual manipulations. So 400 hours of something that I personally said is basically like chiropractic massage therapy and physical therapy all in one, as a physician. And we just augment care. So, an example would be, if a child comes in with an ear infection, if it’s bacterial infection, I would give the antibiotic, but I also have a way of manipulating trying to decrease the pressure and some of the pain by draining some of the fluid out of the eustachian tube, and that decrease of pressure actually helps the child feel better. And also helps the parents feel better cause their kid stops crying. So I am a DO, and starting in 2020, DOs and MDs will have one accreditation. Meaning one match process. We all train side by side currently. But in the future, in 2020, it would be one match.
Rico [05:50 ]: So other than surgery, or, not surgery – if you compare yourself to a general practitioner, let’s say, for lack of a better phrase, what are the differences then?
Barbara [06:02 ]: Well, okay. So 56% of DOs go into primary care, which consists of internal medicine, family medicine, and peds. The others go into whatever they choose. Cardiology, neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery, and they never use their hands ever again. They just practice like an MD.
Rico [06:21 ]: So you’re along the same lines as an internist to a degree? Or, there’s other –
Barbara [06:25 ]: Well, MDs and DOs are fully functioning physicians and can go to any residency. We are just trained, the mind and the body, you know – you just catalyze that the body will heal itself. Just a more holistic thought process. But we can practice in any form of medicine.
Rico [06:45 ]: So how long has this – I mean, there’s a trend on doing this, right? G – Gwinnett Medical – you know, it has expanded, and there’s quite a few facilities in Gwinnett County. I know there was none on this side of the county, and that’s why GMC opened over here. Are all the facilities similar to that degree, with DOs and such?
Barbara [07:09 ]: DOs can practice just like MDs. You’ve probably been treated or done surgery with a DO. You just don’t know unless you look behind their name. We practice the same. It’s just that, a lot of us, more than half, choose to go into primary care. We just have the heart for primary care.
Rico [07:27 ]: So how long have you been doing this now?
Barbara [07:30 ]: Um, graduated from medical school in 2014, graduated from residency 2017. So I’m entering my third year of attendinghood. Being an attending physician. I practice on my own.
Rico [07:40 ]: So do you learn a lot more with, I mean, obviously the amount of residents has expanded there. I mean, is it your colleagues – do you get together? Do you talk about things going on in medicine and community?
Barbara [07:54 ]: Well, I am an attending. I actually teach the residents. So because I am proficient in osteopathic, manipulative treatment, which is that manual manipulation, and half of the residents in the family of medicine are MD and half are DO. The DOs currently need to have a certain amount of osteopathic, manipulative treatment training. So I teach them that. So what we – yeah. I teach them as an attending. So I get to see them once a week – it’s Wednesdays. And other than that, we do have CMEs. So physicians are required to do a certain amount of learning new things in medicine to stay up on the times.
Rico [08:34 ]: So if people come to the – this side here on Peachtree Corners, then they’re gonna see you on a regular basis. You’re out there regularly. You’re the lead, obviously.
Barbara [08:44 ]: Yes, I’m the lead physician, so I see diapers to depends. I do pap smears, I work on mammograms, I do prostate exams, I do child vaccinations, child wellness exams, annuals, preventative exams, acute visits if you have sinusitis, gastroenteritis, diarrhea, I got you. Sprained your ankle, I got you. Possibly pneumonia, I got you. We have a chest x-ray machine.
Rico [09:09 ]: Yeah, you don’t have to go far. You don’t have to leave the city of Peachtree Corners. And it’s an interesting city because, for as much as is 44,000 odd people that live in the city, there’s 87% of the people that work in the city don’t actually live in the city. They leave the city, go back home to wherever they go. So, I mean, corporate health, does that reach to what you want to say?
Barbara [09:35 ]: Yes. That was part of the model. So, I don’t know about Northside, but for Gwinnett Medical Center, and we just became Northside yesterday, we had one facility in Sewanee that was a multi-specialty clinic that was successful. So they modeled my clinic, which opened on August 5th, after that. Where you have primary care there, and then you have five or six different other specialties that time share during the week.
Rico [09:59 ]: Right. And corporate health –
Barbara [10:00 ]: Yes. That is part of it. So the hospital is working on corporate health where people would be able to come in and get their physicals done with me.
Rico [10:11 ]: You know, you’ve been a lot of different things, which is cool. It’s a well rounded person that you are by doing that. What I’d like to ask you is, what brought you – what got you to pursue the medical part of it? The medicine part? I mean, you were acting, modeling a bit. What turned you onto medicine?
Barbara [10:36 ]: When I was younger – so my name is Barbara, and I have an Aunt Barbara who we call Aunt Babs, and my grandma was named Barbara as well. When I was younger, I used to give my grandma massages, and she told me, ‘You have healing hands.’ And at the time, I didn’t understand what that meant. I didn’t understand at the time. But it seemed as other doors were closed, path to medicine was open. It didn’t have its obstacles, but I got into medical school, I passed all the boards and I just – I had a heart for healing. And the gift of mercy. So I was – it was always important. And I really enjoyed people’s stories.
Rico [11:13 ]: You know, that’s interesting. It almost seems like you were guided that way without even realizing.
Barbara [11:18 ]: Right. So people ask – was there a time? I can’t remember just an epiphany – oh you’re supposed to be a doctor. It was like, the path was paved, and it was a little bit easier – and not easier, but just directed in this path where everything else, the doors were closed immediately in my face.
Rico [11:34 ]: You know, it’s funny because Malcom Gladwell – he wrote several books about leadership and stuff, and one of the things he mentions is, you need the little nudges, not things – that huge that comes across. It’s always those little nudges, the right people that talk to you at the right moment, that get you sort of moving along that path over a period of time. So that’s kind of nice to be able to see that. So the professional journey so far that you’ve experienced. Do you have any anecdotes that you want to share about, you know, getting into it, what stories you may have on it?
Barbara [12:13 ]: Well, I guess more so, like, testimony of when I got into med school, there were only two spots left, and I got one of them. So I almost didn’t even get into that class.
Rico [12:22 ]: So that was the Philadelphia –
Barbara [12:24 ]: The Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Georgia Campus. It’s in Sewanee, off of Peachtree Road. Take 85 N and take 109. Go right.
Rico [12:31 ]: You know it well.
Barbara [12:33 ]: Yes. But having – but getting in – that was, I was very thankful. Because with as much work as it took, I was very thankful that I had the capacity, the intelligence, and the wherewithal and the health to go through it. Cause it’s very stressful. And then even in residency, having had difficulties there with certain subjects, I would have trouble learning, but the residency did a very good job of giving me opportunities to go above and beyond to learn. So those obstacles, and to make it through, and by the end of residency in 2017, I was named resident of the year. So overcoming those obstacles and using that as a platform to become great in my field.
Rico [13:21 ]: I mean, determined too. Because lots of young people would drop out, or maybe chemistry’s not their thing, maybe biology, maybe whatever they’re learning could be tough. And they find out it’s not for them.
Barbara [13:37 ]: The cliche. It could have made me or it could break me.
Rico [13:40 ]: Exactly. That you go in there like that. So the role that we discussed for a little bit. So what excites you and motivates you when you, you know, your day off? Do you think about medicine all the time?
Barbara [13:56 ]: No. When I go home, I have a lot of really good friends and family, so I enjoy spending time with them. So that would include having love and fellowship over a nice meal. I play basketball, so there is a league in perimeter. I play D1 Georgia Sports League. And sometimes I’ll join one of the seasons and play basketball with girls who were active in college or overseas and want to stay active in their 30s and 40s, so I enjoy that. What else?
Rico [14:27 ]: That’s good. And you’re a doctor, so you can always see if you’re not feeling well or stress in your bones.
Barbara [14:33 ]: And I enjoy traveling as well. Whether it be out of town or just staycation just to enjoy different parts of Atlanta.
Rico [14:40 ]: Have you been to places where you might have, I mean, I’m sure on vacation you don’t go visit medical facilities, but being in the industry and stuff, do you see anything in other cities, other places, other countries that you may have visited, where you might look at that and say –
Barbara [15:00 ]: Anytime I go overseas and come home, I’m always very thankful for our healthcare system. I just think like that.
Rico [15:06 ]: Alright. With the emerging technology and research, and the techniques that are out there, are you excited about anything particular out there in the future that’s coming that you see? On the horizon maybe?
Barbara [15:21 ]: The one thing that comes to mind is CBD oil. That’s a new thing.
Rico [15:27 ]: Yes, now, okay. Some one I know would like to use it, and but she’s not feeling that maybe would help that. So how would that work? Is that something that you even can recommend in your practice?
Barbara [15:43 ]: It is legal in all 50 states. So you don’t – we’ll prefer someone who is knowledgeable to tell you how to start to take it as a supplement. It is legal – you do not need a prescription, but it is legal in all 50 states.
Rico [15:59 ]: So is that something you would recommend to someone? If you felt they needed it?
Barbara [16:03 ]: If someone has pain or trouble sleeping and relaxation, they’re looking for that, yes, I do recommend it for pain, relaxation, and sleep. We do have endocannabinoid receptors in our body, so there’s a place for them to go. And, just like, say somebody is vitamin D deficient, they would take a vitamin D supplement. If you’re deficient in endocannabinoids, you would take it as a supplement.
Rico [16:31 ]: Do you find that it helps – I mean, some people I would imagine just like pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceuticals, when they come out, maybe 50, 80% of the people that take it, it helps. And maybe the other 20, 30 it doesn’t, because that’s just the way things are.
Barbara [16:45 ]: Well, if your issue – it could be possibly due to endocannabinoid deficiency – the top 4 things that it would be would be migraines, fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression, refractory to treatment, and irritable bowel syndrome. A lot of times, those patients really would do well with it. Also, cancer patients dealing with pain – it’s always good for them to take it as an option. But there’s rules to it. You want to make sure it’s bought in the USA. Made and bought in the USA. Organic, and in full spectrum without the THC, because, you know, the THC portion is psychoactive, and we’re not trying to do that. We’re just trying to get the benefits of the endocannabinoids.
Rico [17:26 ]: That’s right, that’s right. The legal part anyway doesn’t have any of that. Or at least that’s the smallest percent anyway.
Barbara [17:32 ]: Well if it’s full spectrum, and you don’t want the active THC, it’s gonna have a 0.0002 or 3 percent. But yeah. It’ll have a tiny, tiny bit, but not enough that it will cause any psychoactive effects.
Rico [17:48 ]: I’m sure there are people out there that may, I mean there’s so many places that sell it, so you’re correct in saying to investigate what you’re getting.
Barbara [17:57 ]: Yes. You definitely want to investigate where you’re getting it from.
Rico [18:03 ]: Because there’s too many places. Like, even gas stations. I mean, there’s too many places –
Barbara [18:05 ]: Don’t get it from a gas station. It is worth spending the extra money to make sure it’s USA grown, organic, full spectrum, active THC.
Rico [18:11 ]: I think there is a local pharmacy that sells it. Not a chain pharmacy, a local compound pharmacy that sells it also. So, tell me a little bit more about, just a little bit more about the facilities here in Peachtree Corners, and we’ll share some of those pictures of – and I know you hit upon it before a little bit, but let’s talk about that.
Barbara [18:33 ]: So the facility has a primary care pod, and that’s where I am. And then there also is a physician’s assistant – her name is Molly, and she’s with us on Wednesdays, Thursday mornings and Fridays. And I’m there all five days. And we have our six rooms, beautiful rooms, and it has a spa type feel as soon as you walk in.
Rico [18:54 ]: Hospitality, yes.
Barbara [18:55 ]: Right. So when you come in, there’s also a pod for the specialists. So each morning, each afternoon, you’ll have a different specialist that time shares for that morning or afternoon if you’re there for that. And then for us, when I’m back in our little pod, and if you need a mammogram or xray, we have that capability as well.
Rico [19:15 ]: And I understood from the visit when I went there that the, I guess it’s the mammogram, it’s a 2D and a 3D machine. So for those people that might need a 3D – so what’s the difference between the two? Can you share that as far as 2D, 3D?
Barbara [19:34 ]: From what I know, and I’m not an expert on it, you can see things better because it’s 3D versus 2D. I can talk to a radiologist and I can get back to you.
Rico [19:46 ]: No, you’re good, you’re good. So it’s true, if you have thick tissues and stuff like that, 3D is really the way to go. And it’s interesting that it’s the same machine that’s doing it, so, so it’s there. So, I mean, you know, if I remember taking my in-laws to the doctor sometimes if they had to go get an xray, they had to leave where they went, go somewhere else – this is all in one place.
Barbara [20:13 ]: It’s really convenient. Someone comes in and to rule out pneumonia, we can send them down the hall to get a chest x-ray. And if a woman needs a mammogram, we can send her down the hall. And if at that particular time, the specialist that’s time sharing at the time you need, you can just walk on over. Dr. Tonya Ruttledge is the gastroenterologist, so if someone needs a colonoscopy, we can just take them over to do their consult. And Dr. Donroe is the cardiologist. He’s there on Tuesday afternoons. I’ve walked a couple people down to him as well.
Rico [20:44 ]: So do they do that stuff there as well? Colonoscopy down there also?
Barbara [20:47 ]: No. They have either in the hospital or an endoscopy suite.
Rico [20:53 ]: Right. That makes more sense. And I know they keep telling me, I’m over 50 and I need to do that.
Barbara [20:59 ]: Yes. It’s very important. Colon cancer is preventable with a colonoscopy. You can get the polyps removed.
Rico [21:05 ]: Is there anything you want to share with us a little bit more about the facility or the way GMC – I mean I know Northside took over a couple days ago, and we don’t know yet how that’s gonna affect things, but certainly the GMC, Gwinnett Medical sign is still out front.
Barbara [21:25 ]: Yes, yes, yes. They chose to plant feet here because it was a primary care desert, and we’re here to serve the community. So we are open and you guys should call and get an appointment. 678-312-8430. Come on in.
Rico [21:43 ]: Is there a website also? There’s a website I think, right?
Barbara [21:44 ]: Yes. It’s GwinnettMedicalGroup.org/PTC. But I don’t know if that’s gonna change, if we’ll become a Northside website. So stay tuned.
Rico [21:54 ]: Okay. And I imagine if that changes, they’ll probably forward that URL.
Barbara [21:57 ]: Yes.
Rico [21:59 ]: So that should be fine.
Barbara [22:01 ]: Mail forwarding to the new website.
Rico [22:01 ]: And if you want to follow – is there any way they can follow you?
Barbara [22:08 ]: So my instagram is @themodeldoc. Yeah. The Model Doc. Very simple. And on Facebook, Dr. Barbara Joy Jones.
Rico [22:20 ]: If you have any more questions that you want to put to the doctor, you can put them in the comments. She’s liked the page, so she’ll get noticed when those comments are made. And if you want to field visit there, like she said, five days a week. Just go make an appointment and you can go out there. This has been Peachtree Corners Life with Dr. Barbara Joy Jones, DO. Appreciate you coming in.
Barbara [22:50 ]: Thank you, I enjoyed it.
Tara’s Journey Leads to a Healthier Path for Georgians
Peachtree Corners resident Rich DeAugustinis is driven in what he’s doing to bring about specific legislative changes for Georgia. It’s important.
That’s because Tara, his late wife and teenage daughter Aubrey’s mom, lost her battle against mesothelioma far too soon.
“Most Americans aren’t even familiar with the disease,” Rich said. “It’s a rare cancer, but deadly.”
Tara was diagnosed with mesothelioma (or meso) in early 2016 at age 45. Just before her lung surgery in 2016, she wrote: “I am mentally and physically ready. I know this will be difficult, but I am a fighter.”
Throughout her 15-month ordeal, with surgery, setbacks and sadness, Tara pushed forward with all her strength. As the months slipped by, the DeAugustinis family continued to share their thoughts, as well as prayers for their family, friends and for those who might be facing similar circumstances.
By November of 2016, Rich wrote: “Tara will be continuing radiation treatments through Thanksgiving week. As a result, we expect the next couple of months to remain challenging.”
By spring of 2017, the journal betrayed a hint of sorrow: “This week we have learned that Tara’s latest scan shows the mesothelioma has spread to her remaining left lung, and also in the abdomen and in several lymph nodes. Bottom line,” Rich wrote, “the immunotherapy is not working.”
Tara continued to be strong as she added later: “So what is next?… I keep fighting…We focus on one day at a time. I start a new drug protocol at the end of the month. It is a combination of two immunotherapy drugs.”
But, on May 19, 2017, her husband added his most heartbreaking note: “Tara’s battle with mesothelioma is coming to an end…we don’t know how much time she has left.”
Sadly, four days later, Tara died.
Working through a tremendous amount of personal grief, Rich knew he had to change the public’s awareness of meso through education.
“That first year, I was shell-shocked,” he admitted. It took him about a year to emerge. He wanted to move forward with his life and be the father his daughter needed.
When he decided to take on the battle of educating others about meso, he realized how difficult it was to find credible information. In fact, it was challenging.
Many folks don’t have the resources that Rich does. As a highly educated Georgia Tech alum and 30-year Coca-Cola executive, he has the background to understand the research and the finances to travel wherever is necessary. So today, he is fighting for Tara as well as all the families who experienced meso before her and those who are experiencing it today.
Finding the Cause
Meso is associated with environmental and occupational inhalation exposure to asbestos fiber, according to the experts. Rich said that meso’s delayed attack can take place decades after initial exposure. “Asbestos is still very much present in the community around us,” he said.
For years, asbestos was widely used as a form of insulation in many industries. People who worked in paper mills, shipbuilding or construction are particularly vulnerable. The microscopic fibers can get lodged in the lining of the lungs or tissue surrounding other organs. Loose asbestos fibers breathed into the lungs can cause several serious diseases—including malignant mesothelioma.
Tara didn’t work in any of those industries. She was exposed to baby powder during her childhood years, according to her husband. And it is that powder that Rich believes contained asbestos.
“I believe that’s what happened to my wife,” he said.
This led to his conviction that Georgia should ultimately ban asbestos in all products. Although the dangers of asbestos are well known, and building codes were changed throughout the 70s because of it, the use of asbestos is still alive and well in Georgia, Rich said.
“Many people think of asbestos as yesterday’s problem,” he explained. “It’s today’s problem, too. Years ago, we figured out it was a deadly carcinogen.”
A Day of Mesothelioma Awareness
To support meso awareness, Rich and his daughter Aubrey were at the state Capitol on September 26, 2019. The date was proclaimed Mesothelioma Day by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp.
Rich and Aubrey were joined by state Rep. Beth Moore and state Sen. Sally Harrell, both of whom plan to introduce legislation to ban asbestos in products during the current legislative session. At the Capitol, Rich took time to share his wife Tara’s battle with the debilitating disease.
“Tara lost everything to mesothelioma,” he said, “and we lost Tara.”
Continuing the Journey
Today, Rich is on the board of the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, a nonprofit charity dedicated to ending meso and its suffering. For him, success would be “banning asbestos completely and educating the public about its dangers.”
Asbestos has been banned in 55 countries worldwide, according to asbestosnation.org. Rich stated that most people don’t realize that among industrialized nations, the U.S. is one of the few that doesn’t have a ban on asbestos. “There’s no such thing as an understandable or acceptable cost to including asbestos in any products,” he said.
Meso is one of the most painful and difficult cancers for any human being to go through, Rich said, “and yet it propels me to get out of bed every day to fight the good fight.” He added that he’ll be motivated for the rest of his life to help drive the necessary legislative changes for Georgians.
“Tara’s death was a preventable tragedy,” Rich said. “I’m seeking justice. I want society to make different decisions to protect the health of our citizens. It’s only those who are left behind, who have had their lives profoundly and completely changed by this disease, who can say, “this is unacceptable.” ■
When death comes to one mother, one daughter, just one person, it takes on a deeper meaning. To help others understand Tara’s journey, the family shared their deepest feelings from the beginning to end. Every stage of the journey has been chronicled in Tara’s journal, which is online at
Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation
American Cancer Society
National Institutes of Health (NIH)
National Cancer Institute (NCA)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)
Exercise Groups in Peachtree Corners—Fitness & Friendships for The Win!
How wonderful to live in our contemporary world brimming with technological and cultural conveniences like cell phones, computers, online shopping for anything from furniture, to clothes, to daily grocery necessities. We can work from home in the comfort of our pajamas and not see a soul all day. Or we drive home from work, close our automatic garage doors behind us, and never have to see a neighbor.
Social norms for the nuclear family have shifted, and more people live alone now than ever in history. It’s not difficult to see why loneliness is more prevalent in today’s society than it has been in previous generations. Modern life is certainly conducive to isolation. We nonetheless evolved to be social beings, with meaningful human relations being as much of a need for our wellbeing as food and water.
Fortunately for us, living in Peachtree Corners with its active residents, well-maintained public spaces, infrastructure, beautiful residential areas and relatively mild weather, provides plenty of opportunities to combat the sedentary and solitary trends of today’s daily grind. Several social groups meet in our city, from those with interests in gardening to knitting to board games. I decided to investigate some active local groups and learned that for both leaders and members alike, the value of these alliances favoring connections and mutual support extends far beyond the exercise.
Loneliness is actually bad for you
Being lonely can cause health problems, shortening your lifespan. It’s not just a platitude when you hear people speaking about the importance of being healthy in mind and body.
“…[S]ocial isolation… [is] a predictor of mortality on par with smoking, obesity, elevated blood pressure, and high cholesterol… [H]ealth care providers assess[ing] isolation in their regular patient examinations, has clear potential to save, or extend, lives.” (Eric Klinenberg, PhD, American Journal of Public Health: Am J Public Health. 2016 May; 106(5): 786–787).
We’ve long been aware of the physical benefits of exercise. Yet have you ever considered that the friendships formed in exercise groups are just as important to your overall health as the exercise itself?
Fitness is not just physical
If joining a group for comradery and exercise seems intimidating, a group of two will do! A partner to keep you accountable and to be your confidant can provide the same benefits for your health.
Weare Gratwick, Senior Vice President of Tandem Bank, also serves as mayor pro tem on the city council for Peachtree Corners. He likens his exercise regime three to four times a week with longtime friend, Dr. Gene Witkin, to mental health therapy.
“We started running together in 1992. As we got older, running got a little more painful, so we switched to riding bikes. We have several routes throughout Peachtree Corners. It’s as much for physical exercise as it is for mental health. … We’ve had many deep conversations on these rides: everything from business decisions that we’ve both faced, to personal things going on in our lives. It’s been something that I’ve always enjoyed and a big part of both of our lives for many years. Hopefully we’ll be able to continue that. At some point I guess we’ll get too old to bike and then perhaps we’ll walk. We’ll see. Ha! Ha!”
If you live in Peachtree Corners, people walking, jogging, or cycling for fitness is not an unfamiliar sight.
“It really is great that we’ve got a community where there are so many people who are able to participate in exercise activities. They’re out and about. The city, I know, is working very hard to extend both sidewalks as well as our multi-use trails throughout the city. As we continue to expand those that’s going to provide more opportunities for people to walk, jog and ride bikes,” said Councilman Gratwick.
If you’re looking for trail ideas, scooters and bicycles are allowed on Technology Park’s Curiosity Lab, the test track for autonomous vehicles.
“That’s really the genesis of the multi-use trails because we’ve widened sidewalks to 12 feet throughout Tech Park… I know we’re working to connect to a couple of lakes back there. … You can canoe or kayak on the lakes. Our multi-use trail will… continue the loop around the city… It’s high on our priority list.”
You can find Gratwick and Witkin riding their bikes in Simpsonwood Park, which is also a great place to run and walk. They enjoy riding through neighborhoods like North Manor and Amberfield as well.
PC3 (Peachtree Corners Cycling Club)
Randy Bailey, a software sales executive and resident of Peachtree Corners since 1986, well before its incorporation as a city, heads up PC3, a diverse group of road biking enthusiasts who have been riding on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and on Tuesday and Thursday evenings since the early 1990s. He took his love for spin class, which he taught for several years, out on the road.
Andrew Hebert helps him orchestrate the club. You can find them riding with anywhere from five to 25 people. On busy days there can be 50 to 60 riders.
The group is comprised of cyclists in their teens to those in their 70s, from a multitude of backgrounds, representing an array of professions: long-haul truckers, people in technology, teachers and doctors. It’s anchored in Peachtree Corners, but they draw members from Roswell, Dunwoody and Johns Creek. “It’s a great, central location where people can get together and ride.”
“There are tons of athletes in the group, people who do other kinds of riding, like mountain bike riding and gravel biking. We’re primarily a road biking group but we support all those other disciplines. It’s a pretty broad sport. There are some who are triathletes so they’re runners too. I’ll have people come back from a ride, put their bikes in the car and then go for a run,” explained Bailey.
Gulp… If like me, you hear that and feel leery about joining a group of hard-core athletes, PC3 is welcoming to all levels. They have some beginners, people who just came out of spin class and want to try it on the road, people who are apprehensive about it. Some, like Bailey, become cyclists because it’s more forgiving on the joints than running and impact sports.
They all coexist harmoniously, even with members on the other extreme, who are nationally recognized racers joining PC3 on their “rest days.”
“There’s quite a bit more to it than just the exercise. That’s important and it’s definitely worthwhile, but it is a lot broader than that.” Bailey conveyed the important social factor of the group. They participate in several activities outside of their shared passion for riding. Stories of great weight loss, support for members having arrived from different countries and personal growth have all come out of this band of cyclists.
It’s amazing how easy it becomes
Member Jenny Johnson shared “PC3 has been one of the biggest reasons I was able to recover so strongly from my knee replacement and the three surgeries following. … I had to start from ground zero in building strength and confidence on the bike. … PC3 was patient enough to allow me to ride, even when I was so slow and in pain those first few months … after surgery. I’ve logged over 1,600 miles on the bike since my knee replacement and all but about 100 miles of those were with PC3.
When I met with PC3 before a Saturday morning ride, member Dena Gaddie told me she was the kid no one wanted on their team because she was not in good shape. She got into cycling as an adult and has gone from being “in the absolute worst physical shape” to being “just one of the pack—good enough to hang with the group. I’m steadily improving. Now I can do 100-mile bike rides. … It’s done a world of good for my well-being, my self-esteem, my social life and my overall outlook on life.”
The importance of sharing the road
It’s sometimes a little scary to get out on the road—even in a car. Bailey said, “I can assure you we don’t want to have accidents because the car always wins. To ride with a group is a way to make it safer. It’s absolutely a way to make it more fun.”
There seems to be a little hostility on behalf of some drivers who think cyclists should ride on the sidewalk. However, bike riding on the sidewalk is actually illegal; in most cases, bikes are to be treated as motorcycles on the road.
Sadly, on September 21, 2019, member Mike Rachelson was struck and killed with 63 miles remaining in an epic adventure—he was an avid cyclist on his second to last day of a 2600+ mile journey from Canada to Mexico along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. PC3 will be riding in his memory on May 2, 2020, hoping to create awareness for motorists to drive safely with bikers on the road.
Bailey was lucky to survive being struck by a pick-up truck in 2015, on a ride back from Lake Lanier. He does everything he can to promote improving relations with motorists.
Bikers make themselves as visible as possible, “We light ourselves up like Christmas trees,” he chuckled. His club respects the rules of the road, just as cars should. His message to drivers is simple: “We are not the enemy. We are your friends and neighbors. My goal is not to slow you down…”
I inquired about the proper way to pass a cyclist and learned to allow for a minimum of three feet of distance between the car and the biker for safe passing. And when you see a large group of them riding in single file, know that is the safest way for them to ride. They are also allowed to ride two-abreast on the roadways.
For more information about PC3 visit pc3cycling.com.
The Renegade Runners
This is a troop of about 40 individuals who range in age from their late 30s to age 60. Primarily female, about 80%, some are stay at home moms and several are professionals: doctors, business executives, teachers, real estate agents.
A Waffle House executive by day, John Fervier spearheads the running group he joined 15 years ago when it was still known as Gwinnett Galloway. Galloway had gotten too regimented—it’s a very formal run/walk process—so they disbanded and formed The Renegade Runners. Their apropos motto is “Do whatever the hell you want.”
They still employ the Galloway method of repeated running and walking intervals. For example, they’ll run for five minutes and walk for one. At its inception, it was primarily a marathon training group. Now it’s primarily a social group of people who like to run an array of races.
“We wanted more freedom with our training programs,” explained Fervier. They meet on Saturday mornings at the Ingles parking lot; 7 a.m. in the summer and 7:30 a.m. in the winter.
There are different subgroups based on pace.
- The Slackers: 2:1 (They run for two minutes and walk for one.)
- The Renegades: 5:1
- Lazy Sux: 7:1. They’re the fastest and they participate in a lot of races.
Some are not training for anything. Some have run over 50 marathons, one in each state. Others are striving to accomplish that goal.
“There is nothing strict about us. We’re a social group that likes to run, or a running group with a drinking problem. We’ve been known to have some mimosas after a run,” Fervier said.
Minimal gear is required to be a runner. For the proper shoes, Fervier recommends going to Fleet Feet, Big Peach or the new Peachtree Corners store, Road Runner Sports.
“It’s imperative to go to a running store to be fitted with the proper shoes. Shoe selection is based on your running style, body type, weight and the way your foot strikes the ground. Shoes are the most important piece of equipment. They should be replaced every 300 to 400 miles. My shoes will last me half a year. You’re probably going to spend $80 to $140 on a good pair of shoes.”
Fervier also suggests Body Glide, a substance you use on parts of your body that might chafe, to help keep you from blistering. It looks like a deodorant.
Running in Peachtree Corners
Fervier and his group can be seen running on the streets and sidewalks in neighborhoods like Amberfield. In the summer, they may run along the shaded path by the river in Roswell.
They’ve developed 50 different routes over the years, running primarily around Peachtree Corners. They’ll also dart to downtown Norcross and back or up to North Berkley Lake.
A member since 2006, Donna Esau shared how they’ve named and memorized all the routes since they’ve jogged them so often. There’s the “Old Lisa,” “The Infinity,” “The Donut,” and “Three Friends,” to name a few.
Fervier sends an email every weekend containing route, start time and weather information. Routes may differ depending upon which races they’re training for.
“There are great areas for running around here with little traffic. We have hills instead of just straightaways, which helps a lot with training. It’s pretty much a perfect place. And there are great restaurants to go to for breakfast afterwards,” Fervier said.
“You have people who have been running together for more than 10 years. I might be out there for 4 to 5 hours at a time training, so you get to know these people very, very well. You become good friends. When you’re running with somebody for so long, you call him your running husband,” said Esau.
“We’ve all become really close friends. We’ve traveled across the country together running races. We’ve traveled to California, to Hawaii. We have Christmas parties, we celebrate together, and we support each other when we’re going through difficult times,” Fervier explained.
“Typically, our Saturday runs last one to two hours,” he continued. “When you spend five to six hours running with people—training for marathons, we run 20 miles or more—or several hours on the road heading to different marathons, you learn a lot about them.”
Fervier knows of some relationships that sprang from the group. He also described how members can count on one another when dealing with illnesses or during difficult times at home. “You learn a lot about their personal lives and what they go through. When I’ve had my own illnesses, I’ve leaned on my friends in the running group to help me through it,” he said.
To show their support when a member is preparing for longer marathons, some people in the group will run the first 10 miles with him or her, then another set of people will go along for support on the next 10.
“We like people that get along with other people. Those are the people who stay with our group and enjoy it. No drama, no fighting,” said Fervier.
Running is a stress buster
Referring to marathons, during which one person may run for three to six and a half hours, Fervier considers running a great, stress-relieving exercise, “almost like going on a long drive in your car. You remember the beginning and the end of the drive; in the middle you zone out.”
I gasped at the thought of running for 26+ miles, to which Fervier responded, “You get used to it; you’d be amazed. When I first started, I would run one mile and that’s it. Your body gets so accustomed to it. It doesn’t affect you anymore.”
Esau described the annual Half Marathon put on by member Rebecca McLaughlin and her husband. “They organize a Thanksgiving Half Marathon every year. They provide refreshments, they cheer people on, they drive the course to make sure people are safe. It doesn’t cost you anything. Unless you want a medal. She’ll order one for you. There is nothing competitive about this group! She also puts on a Christmas run.”
Runners can bring their children, and it’s a fun, relaxing way to burn off some calories from the fabulous feasts.
BGR (Black Girls Run)
I met with Director of Research/Electrical Engineer and BGR lead Prudence Franklin, who explained that there are BGR groups across the country trying to encourage women of all fitness levels to get out and become more active.
While there were BGR groups in Atlanta, there wasn’t one in Peachtree Corners, so Franklin decided to get a team of women together of varying sizes, shapes and capabilities. She posted an ad on the Nextdoor website and women from all over Peachtree Corners, Berkley Lake and Johns Creek answered the call.
BGR meets three days a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Mondays and Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. in the summer and 7 p.m. in the winter. Saturdays at 7 a.m. “We try to get out there and do our thing,” said Franklin.
Since August of this year, 30 women inquired about BGR. Initially, 12-14 came out to participate. Now there are about four or five regulars. “We meet at the Dunkin Donuts in the Ingles Plaza,” Franklin said.
Their ages range from late 20s to 70s and all levels are welcome: some are runners, some prefer to walk and others run/walk. Despite the group’s name, Franklin stressed that women of all ethnicities are welcome to join them. Just as Peachtree Corners is diverse, so too is their BGR group.
While the origin of the movement was meant to help improve the health of African American women who statistically have had higher rates of hypertension, diabetes and heart disease, it’s not exclusively for black women. It’s about empowering all women to be healthy. “We want all women out there running and being health-conscious,” said Franklin.
At your own pace—in company
I joined the ladies one evening on a run to Simpsonwood Elementary and back to Ingles. Initially, I feared my speed would not be up to par. I met members Corinda Billington and Tavia Anderson that night. Billington is 70 and in much better shape than I am. She also plays tennis on two different teams. She links up with BGR often and said she enjoys the workout and company since having lost her husband.
It was a relief when Franklin explained, “The whole point of BGR is so women would not be intimidated. The walkers walk with each other, the runners run together and we have the motto: No woman left behind.”
In the end, the runners get back first and they wait for the walkers. Everyone waits until the last people come in. I can attest to this, as on the night I joined them, Franklin could clearly run circles around the rest of us, but she gracefully fell back, doubled-back, checked on us and brought us headlamps for running at night, likely going three or four times the intended distance.
“It’s a running club but we have walkers, run/walkers and runners. We wait for and celebrate everyone upon their return,” said Franklin.
When I thanked her for her efforts and for the great things she’s doing in our city, Franklin replied, “This is Peachtree Corners, we have to keep it vibrant, alive and a good place to live.” Indeed.
Stay tuned for our December podcast on Exercise Groups in Peachtree Corners!
Planet Fitness to bring “Judgement Free Zone” to Norcross
Planet Fitness recently announced plans to open a Judgement Free Zone® in Norcross. It describes these locations as giving high-quality fitness experiences, with affordable pricing and boasting a non-intimidating environment.
Set to open this month, the club will offer members unlimited home club access and free fitness training among the company’s signature purple and yellow equipment for only $10 per month! The Norcross gym will be located at 5345 Jimmy Carter Blvd.
“The Norcross club is the ideal destination to relieve stress and enjoy a hassle-free workout,” said Planet Fitness Regional Director Timothy Morrissette. “Whether a first-time gym user or fitness veteran, we look forward to welcoming the Norcross community to our Judgement Free Zone!”
The 16,900 square-foot club offers a clean and welcoming workout environment where guests are met by friendly staff members and certified trainers, ready to help guide them through the club.
Membership includes a host of benefits, including free small group fitness instruction by a certified trainer through the pe @ pf® program, where trainers take members around the club and provide instruction on a large selection of cardio and strength machines. In addition, Planet Fitness offers complimentary pizza on the first Monday of every month, as well as free bagels on the second Tuesday of every month, as a friendly gesture to remind guests that it’s okay to treat yourself.
The PF Black Card®offer includes additional amenities, such as one free daily guest and access to all 1800+ Planet Fitness locations, as well as massage beds and chairs, tanning and more – all for only $22.99 a month plus tax*.
Planet Fitness also provides members with an opportunity to connect and support each other with Planet of Triumphs, an online community that celebrates all accomplishments and inspirational stories of Planet Fitness members. The Planet of Triumphs online platform allows members to recognize their triumphs, both big and small, share their stories and encourage others, reinforcing the company’s belief that ‘everyone belongs.
Additionally, Planet Fitness has extended its judgement free philosophy outside of its gyms and into communities that need it most with its national philanthropic initiative, “The Judgement Free Generation™”. Together with Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA), the nation’s leading youth development organization, supporting millions of kids and teens during the critical out-of-school time, Planet Fitness “aims to empower a generation of teens to grow up contributing to a more judgement free planet – a place where everyone feels accepted and like they belong.”
For more information or to become a member online, please visit PlanetFitness.com.
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