On a get-fit mission

STEUBENVILLE – The New Year’s Eve parties are over, the last of the Christmas cookies all but a memory, the indulgence of the holiday season “weighs” heavily on most people resolving to lose weight and get fit.

So as the Rev. Ashley Steele, executive director of Urban Mission Ministries in Steubenville, led a staff retreat earlier this month to set goals and jumpstart the dawn of a new year, she “ran” with an idea.

What if mission staff and volunteers set a fitness goal to participate in one of the upcoming Pittsburgh Marathon events as a runner or walker?

How about if the public were invited to be a part of it, too?

And why not solicit pledges and sponsorships in the process to raise money for the mission and its programs?

With that in mind, the mission is recruiting staff and volunteers to be part of a yet-to-be-named team and welcomes the public to “join with us as we embark on a journey ourselves,” reads the announcement in the mission’s January newsletter.

“You, like many of our readers, may have made losing weight and/or exercising more your resolutions for 2013. Maybe you already exercise and would like to challenge yourself to do something different this year,” the newsletter article notes.

“The staff has always tried to find ways that they could get healthy and do things as a staff,” Steele said in explaining the thought process behind the suggestion. Staff members in past years, she said, might walk during their lunch breaks or do exercise DVDs.

“I think the idea of wellness, nutrition and health is an important thing for us,” said Steele, the mission’s executive director since July 2011. A health-based activity with a group goal has always been something staff members have wanted to do, according to Steele.

“We always talk about how can we get into shape,” she said.

“But we’ve probably slacked off a little with the holidays,” she said with a smile.

The consensus is to participate, to start off walking and give those interested a chance to decide what they’re comfortable doing – not the actual 26.2-mile marathon but walking or running, for example, in the 5K event, which is 3.1 miles.

Steele, however, a runner since her college days, is opting to run in the half marathon that day – 13.1 miles, though she knows first hand what it’s like to have finished a marathon.

“I ran a marathon in (Washington) D.C ., when I lived there several years ago, and I love running, and I haven’t been able to do it that much lately of course with the baby,” Steele said, referring to her newborn son, 3-month-old Theo.

“I ran with a team called Team in Training that raised money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society,” Steele said of the 2007 event. She also has participated in 5K and 10K events in the past.

“I have always loved to do that and wanted to get back into doing those types of races, so with the Pittsburgh Marathon coming up May 5, I proposed it to the staff,” she said, explaining there are different options for people who want to participate.

“So the consensus is let’s do the 5K – either walk or run, and I think people are just getting back into actually moving and seeing how their body feels, but we’ll see. We have to know by the end of March who is going to be in it, sign up for it, and then we’ll be ready to go,” Steele said.

The plan is to start with walking now and move into training programs over a 10- to 12-week period to build endurance.

For information on participating or being a sponsor, call the mission at (740) 282-8010. Suggestions for a team name also would be appreciated.

Kitty Lancaster, the mission’s custodian since 2003, immediately came on board.

“Rev. Ashley was telling us about it, and I just told her I would like to be in it with her,” Lancaster said.

“I’m really excited about doing it because it would be a lifetime experience. This would be the first time I ever did anything like this,” said Lancaster, a Steubenville resident.

To get fit and lose some weight motivates her, she said.

Lancaster’s normal activity level is keeping busy all the time. “I have a grandson that keeps me going,” she laughs.

Lancaster will tackle the 5K walk.

“I’ve never done anything like this before. We’re going to do an eight-week training, beginning in March,” she said.

Participating in a race or walk event is fun, according to Steele.

“It’s a really neat thing to be a part of,” she said.

A bonus would be to have it also serve as a fundraiser. “If people are willing to sponsor us then all those proceeds would go to the mission for whatever type of program they wanted to fund,” she said.

Potential sponsors can contact the mission.

“Just let us know and then we will set our goals and then people can either determine if they want to donate by the mile we run or walk or a flat donation,” Steele said.

On race day, afterwards, Steele said a fun activity will be planned in celebration.

“We’ll make sure we have a fun event when we get up there whether it’s going out to eat afterwards or just something to celebrate. We’ll figure out something extra to do,” she said the opportunity for post-event camaraderie of a mission completed.

Beyond that, though, the getting-fit aspect brings a reward in itself.

“I always believe in the whole person being whole,” Steele said. “Wellness is a part of our every day, and if we aren’t well, then it’s hard to actually do the things that God calls us to do, and so health plays a big role in that and fitness. I think it’s important for us to be good examples in a number of ways.”

(Kiaski can be contacted at jkiaski@heraldstaronline.com)