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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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Community

Robert D. Fowler Family YMCA Relaunches Manning Playground Fundraising Campaign

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Playground rendering courtesy of Robert D. Fowler Family YMCA.

YMCA of Metro Atlanta announced September 18 that it has relaunched the John Manning Playground Fundraising Campaign to raise an additional $25,000 to reach its $200,000 goal for a new state of the art playground for the Robert D. Fowler Family YMCA, an initiative introduced in fall 2019 that was halted due to the uncertainties of the coronavirus pandemic. 

John Manning was a dedicated YMCA volunteer, active church member, respected family and corporate lawyer and Peachtree Corners community member who left a legacy of service and friendship. The new playground will incorporate educational and creative-based play structures for all ages. Landscaping in and around the playground will provide a new park-like setting for families to enjoy. The Y is looking to volunteers, members and business for their support in bringing honor to Manning and his legacy through the new amenity.

“We are excited to safely welcome back our members and children into our daycare programs,” said Mark Thornell, executive director, Robert D. Fowler Family YMCA.  “The Manning playground is something for us all to look forward to as we are on schedule to break ground in the fall.”

A featured donor is Manning’s 12-year-old granddaughter Caroline, who has instructed acting camps for her peers the past three summers to raise money for the playground. Caroline aims to raise enough money to reserve a “Camp Caroline 2020” brick on the park grounds in memory of her grandfather.

“We are blessed with an amazing playground committee who has worked tirelessly to secure donations to make this dream come true,” said Sarah Manning Locke, playground committee co-chair and Manning’s daughter.  “We are so close to our goal and are having to get creative to see everything to completion due to the coronavirus uncertainty.  I love that Caroline is on board to pitch in with her Camp Caroline donation.”

Those interested in donating or purchasing a brick to help pave the way for Y children, can do so on the organization’s website ymcaofmetroatlanta.givingfuel.com/john-manning

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Community

Flood Awareness in Peachtree Corners

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As we approach the tropical storms and hurricane season, the city would like to bring awareness to the various resources provided by the city of Peachtree Corners for floodplain awareness.

Peachtree Corners is bordered by the Chattahoochee River to the north. Additionally, tributaries and streams run throughout the city. Flooding damage can occur due to large rainfall events or when the natural flow of water is redirected.

A wealth of information can be found on the city’s Floodplain Management webpage that pertains to:

• Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) – the only legal document allowed to be used by lenders to write a flood insurance policy.
• Floodway Data – Properties located in or near the floodplain have special regulatory requirements for development. Prior to any building construction, please apply for a building permit
• Special flood-related hazards – such as local drainage problems, areas predicted to be flooded in the future, and erosion
• Approximate Depth of Flooding – information about how deep flood waters can be anticipated on a property can be provided
• Historical flood information – to find out if a property has been flooded in the past or is a repetitive loss
• Wetlands and Natural Conservation Data – areas mapped in the: National Wetlands Inventory, critical habitat by the US Fish and Wildlife Services, areas receiving natural floodplain functions
• Flood Insurance – it is mandatory for a property located in the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) to purchase flood insurance

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City Government

Gwinnett County Burn Ban Ends Sept. 30

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The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) imposes a total ban on outdoor burning in Gwinnett County annually from May 1 to September 30.

Once the Burn Ban has been lifted on Oct. 1, please note you MUST first check with Gwinnett County Fire Marshall as to whether it is an allowable burn day. Many factors such as atmospheric conditions come into play that affect whether you can burn, and this can change daily.

A few of these factors are – prevailing winds that are predicted to be, or are, in excess of 15 miles per hour, air pollution episodes, the National Weather Service issues a “Red Flag Warning” or a “Fire Weather Watch,” when there is fog, rain, or a cloud base that is diffused or ill-defined – these are just some of the factors taken into consideration as to whether it will be an allowable burn day or not.

The burning of leaves, limbs, and natural vegetation on one’s property shall not be less than fifty (50) feet from any structure and not less than twenty-five (25) feet from the property line. No burning of solid waste or household garbage is allowed. Burning is NOT allowed on Sundays or at night.

This is not the full content of the Gwinnett Department of Fire and Emergency Services “Outdoor and Open Burning” and “Outdoor Burning Ordinance Restrictions” and should not be interpreted as such. For the complete content please visit the Gwinnett County Fire Marshal site then select the tab on the left marked “Outdoor Burning.”

Remember BEFORE BURNING check with Gwinnett County Fire Marshal first at either of the two contacts below:

Burn Information Line– 678-518-4979 or www.gwinnettfiremarshal.com
The Burn Information line and website are updated daily by 9:00 a.m.

If you suspect someone is improperly burning, please report it by calling 770-513-5700.

*Remember: Do not bury the fire. The fire will continue to smolder. Tree roots could catch on
fire which will eventually surface and start a wildfire. If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to
leave!

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