The Rapidian Home

My health journey: Motivating myself for family, community around me

When I went on a mission to start a new trend where healthy eating and living would be a priority, I brought that mission not only to myself but to my children, my grandmother and my community.
I raised over $500 for the St. Jude Half Marathon in Memphis, TN 12/2014

I raised over $500 for the St. Jude Half Marathon in Memphis, TN 12/2014 /Courtesy of Aliya Armstrong

Gazelle Girl winner

Aliya Armstrong, one of the winners of the Gazelle Girl writing challenge for The Rapidian this year, shares this essay about her own health journey as part of our challenge to local women to share their own stories.

Registration is still open for Gazelle Girl Half Marathon and 5k. Find more information here.


Follow along for race and training tips and other information on the Gazelle Girl Facebook group.

Running in the Grand Rapids Groundhog

Running in the Grand Rapids Groundhog /Rudy Malmquist

GR Groundhog 1/31/15 with my oldest daughter Anaka who ran the 1/6th

GR Groundhog 1/31/15 with my oldest daughter Anaka who ran the 1/6th /Courtesy of Aliya Armstrong

I lost both of my parents to health related illness before the age of 35. This was devastating and unbelievable. I took so much for granted. I never imagined a world where my children would never know their grandparents. I graduated from high school, college, married and then had children. I had done everything correctly. Right? Perhaps my energy was focused on the wrong things.

I went on a mission to start a new trend- a trend where healthy eating and living would be a priority, not just for me, but for those around me. I started with my then 71 year old grandmother. She had lost her only daughter, yet she was still a smoker and not making any lifestyle changes, knowing this had contributed to her daughter’s demise. I started with her. I worked tirelessly until she stopped smoking and started exercising. 

Let’s try to run. We can do this. I had never run a 5k until I participated in the Couch to 5K class at New Hope Baptist Church offered by the YMCA. Before joining the Couch to 5k class I was introduced to running by I started by signing my oldest daughter up for the Grand Rapids Kids Marathon I learned about from the public library. There were a series of running events for youth, free to the public. I struggled to keep up with her youthful energy, desperately trying to keep her in my eyesight. After completing the program, I decided to start a running journey of my own. I was very scared and nervous. It is even more intimidating because of the lack of minority women that participate in these events.

I ran my first 5k after completing the couch to 5k class and so did my grandmother at the age of 74. We also participated in a free Zumba class also offered at the church by the YMCA. I lost 40 pounds in one calendar year, but the real reward was having my daughter and my grandmother follow in my footsteps. My grandmother changed her eating habits, lost weight and was able to reduce her medication dosages.

When the site coordinator needed to replace the former Couch to 5K instructor I could not say no. My busy schedule of being a mother of three, involved in PTC at two schools and working part-time outside of the home did not stop me. I wanted other non-fitness believers to experience the joy that the Y and my new found love for fitness had brought to me and my family.  

My daughters, age 3 and 6, attended the nutrition classes while my grandmother and I danced off the pounds in Zumba. We were not selfish in our efforts. We were determined to share the wealth. We shared the free opportunity with everyone- strangers and associates via social media, news media, church venues and more. We have watched the program grow, expand and change many lives. Our family was dedicated to helping others reach the same success we had seen in our lives.

I went on a mission to continue my running through a run-group I developed, S.T.A.R.S, (sisters taking action reversing statistics). I competed in the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute 5k and won first place for my age group two consecutive years: me, the woman who could barely finish a mile without stopping just three years ago.

It then became a passion. I was determined to motivate others like me. I had the greatest satisfaction on April 13, 2013. I celebrated two large milestones. I completed my first half marathon and I cheered for my first Couch to 5k class as they ran their first organized race. They were excited for me and I was more excited for them. I know that feeling that they had, the feeling of accomplishment, glee, excitement, nervousness but most of all the joy to say, “I did it.” When I entered class that following Monday after the race, they were cheering and clapping. I immediately joined in to do the same. There was no competition, no regrets and no feelings of doubt!

We met our goal, we finished the race. The winner? Our health.

Today I have reached over 45 women with my group S.T.A.R.S. We run all year long. Last year was a very brutal winter but we could not give up.

“Races end, running never does,” I kept repeating. Some days I had to recite it to myself the night before a cold morning run. It is not easy, especially when a group of individuals are depending on you. When the weather is unbearable I try to focus on my winter goal statement, that “summer bodies are made in the winter. Do not stop when you are tired, keep going until you finish.”

Today, I continue to motivate, encourage and share with others. My daughter finished her first official timed race this month and I could not be more proud. This year’s goal is focusing on creative ways to finance the pricey race entry fees. Races draw excitement and crowds and I have found it is one way to keep my team motivated. Having accountability partners and regularly scheduled meet ups helps us stay connected and returning to the sport. 

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.


Great story and message, Aliya! Keep it up