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Exercise Groups in Peachtree Corners—Fitness & Friendships for The Win!

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Cycling

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.

About to head out for a ride 11.12.19, Councilman Weare Gratwick with longtime friend and exercise partner, Dr. Gene Witkin. (Photo courtesy of Weare Gratwick)

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.

Easily equipped

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.

Running buddies

“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.”

Holiday cheer

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!

Patrizia hails from Toronto, Canada where she earned an Honors B.A. in French and Italian studies at York University, and a B.Ed. at the University of Toronto. This trilingual former French teacher has called Georgia home since 1998. She and her family have enjoyed living, working and playing in Peachtree Corners since 2013.

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City Recognizes its High School Graduating Seniors with Special Video Tribute

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Graduates 2020 Peachtree Corners

The coronavirus hasn’t stopped this year’s high school graduating seniors from making lemonade out of lemons, in this case the lemon was a virus pandemic that has virtually stopped the world in its tracks.

Though they didn’t have the chance to be part of the traditional march to pick up their diplomas signifying the completion of 13 years of schooling, this group has learned there is more than one way to mark this annual rite of passage. Families have gathered remotely using technology to overcome the barriers of social distancing, and impromptu automobile parades were held as graduating seniors made the rounds in their cars waiving to neighbors, friends and supporters in celebrating their big day.

And the city of Peachtree Corners is also doing its part to make this a special moment – via a unique video highlighting the city’s high school seniors. All Peachtree Corners graduating seniors who attended a public, private school – or were home schooled, had the opportunity to submit photos, videos and information which was used to create this special video.

“This year’s high school graduates went from working in a classroom to working 100 percent online,” said Mayor Mike Mason. “They watched their dreams of a traditional graduation vanish before their eyes. But history will prove that the 2020 High School graduates have learned to improvise. The world changed, and they changed with it.

“Each and every student can stand tall and be proud for they will forever be remembered as the graduating class who made milestones and history. We wish you great success.”

The 2020 High School Senior Class video is available on the city’s YouTube channel, PCN Network.

The video will also be shown Friday, Saturday and Sunday on the big screen at the Town Green.

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City Releases Special Memorial Day Tribute Video

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Peachtree Corners Veterans Monument

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the City of Peachtree Corners and the Peachtree Corners Veterans Monument Association will commemorate America’s fallen soldiers this Memorial Day with a special video tribute.

The special video features comments by Mayor Mike Mason and Retired Army Col. Bob Ballagh, a wreath laying by Councilmember Alex Wright, volunteers installing 48 new pavers and concludes with the traditional raising of the flags to full staff at noon.

Please use this link (or see the embedded video below) to view the city’s video tribute as we remember the men and women who died while serving our country.  

The PCVMA would like to thank all who were involved in the making of this year’s video:

  • Mayor Mike Mason, a veteran of the U.S. Navy
  • PCVMA Master of Ceremonies, Retired Army Col. Bob Ballagh
  • Councilmember Alex Wright, a veteran of the U.S. Navy
  • PCVMA Vice President, Retired Army Reserves Col. Doug Heckman
  • PCVMA Committee Member and Retired Navy Commander Tiffany Grave de Peralta
  • Assisting with flag raising PCVMA volunteer David “Doc” Hammer
  • Simpsonwood United Methodist Church Rev. John Purington
  • Bugler, Wesleyan Band Director Jeff Foster
  • Videographer Howell Upchurch, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force
  • Professional Photographer Jason Getz, a Peachtree Corners resident
  • And the volunteers who installed the 48 new brick pavers

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Gwinnett Accepting Cares Act Grants Applications For Covid-19 Programs For The Needy

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Cares Act for Non-Profits

Gwinnett County is accepting applications from nonprofit and faith-based partners for round one of its federal CARES Act grant funding to serve Gwinnett residents most in need because of COVID-19.

All applications must be submitted electronically to the Community Development Program by June 4 for consideration.

Funding allocations will be made to qualifying nonprofit agencies providing eligible services in Gwinnett County. Applicants must be registered to conduct business in the state of Georgia and be designated as a 501(c)(3) organization.

The Gwinnett County Community Development Program will be hosting a Gwinnett COVID-19 Funding Webinar Friday at 11 a.m. The meeting can be accessed by computer, tablet or smartphone at global.gotomeeting.com/join/994133205 or by phone at 571.317.3112. The access code is 994-133-205.

CARES Act grant funds are reimbursable, so applicants must have the capacity and cash-flow to cover eligible costs. The County encourages collaborative submissions – especially those that use a strategic approach to address critical needs, such as emergency food assistance, housing and emergency shelter, childcare, transportation, and healthcare services.

Applicants will need to fill out the COVID-19 Statement of Need application at www.GwinnettCounty.com. The application can be found under Top Stories from the home page as well as under COVID-19 Resources for Nonprofits on the Department of Financial Services’ Grants webpage.

The $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act passed in March is intended to provide direct economic assistance for American workers, families, and small businesses, and to preserve jobs for industries. Gwinnett County manages CARES Act funding locally.

For more information, call the Community Development Program at 678-518-6008 or email gchcd@gwinnettcounty.com.

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