New Monumental Baptist Church is challenging inner-city residents and other church congregations to run a 5K race this fall - and maybe save your own life.
The race is among a citywide grass-roots effort to improve the health of inner-city residents, who suffer higher rates of obesity and heart disease than other Hamilton County residents and are twice as likely to die from diabetes.
"We can be empowered to help ourselves," said the Rev. Roderick Ware, New Monumental pastor. "We can get out on our own and make it happen."
The 5K race is just the beginning of efforts to promote more physical fitness in the inner city, New Monumental members say. A health fair is scheduled for Saturday, and a demonstration of how to grow a backyard garden will be held Tuesday in Alton Park. Plus, the church plans to use proceeds from the run to build a community playground for outdoor activity, and church members also will organize basketball games and walks.
But the 5 kilometer, or 3.1-mile, race is the signature event that organizers hope will motivate residents to get involved and learn more about their health and how to improve it.
"We said some of these pastors are out of shape and may have a heart attack trying to run," said Chandra Wilson, co-coordinator of the event. "But pastor said no. We're giving them 90 days to get in shape. If he can run a 5K, they can, too."
Free training is being offered to help residents prepare for the Oct. 22 race.
The 90-day challenge begins now, said Dr. Vonda Ware, an obstetrician and gynecologist and wife of the New Monumental pastor. This is a journey of faith to the finish line, she said.
New Monumental leaders and members began thinking about how to help residents improve their health following the release of an Ochs Center report last year stating that 76 percent of blacks in Hamilton County are overweight or obese. The report also found that compared to whites, the rate of death among blacks is double because of diabetes, 61 percent higher because of heart disease, 20 percent higher because of stroke and 18 percent higher because of cancer.
And this month Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a report stating that Tennessee is the fourth-fattest state in the country.
"I see these patients," said Dr. Ware. "A lot of problems, a lot of chronic illnesses are the result of lifestyle choices we've made."
People would probably do better about their health if they knew more, said Glenwood resident Fannie Jones.
Until being diagnosed as prediabetic in 2010, Jones, 67, had no idea of all the foods that included sugar, not just cakes and candy, but raisin bran and bread, she said.
Jones, Linda Stargin of Orchard Knob and Charlotte Anderson of Churchville are among residents hosting a health fair this weekend focused on showing people how to eat better and to better protect their heart.
"I think if people have the information, they can use it to help themselves," Jones said.
And public housing resident Josephine Wortham is improving access to produce in her community by showing Emma Wheeler Homes residents how to grow backyard gardens.
Wortham, a member of the Emma Wheeler Homes resident association, got $1,000 from the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department to put 16 raised garden beds in walking distance of residents at Emma Wheeler.
Emma Wheeler in Alton Park is one of several inner-city communities that have no grocery stores in easy walking distance, said John Bilderback, a program manager at the health department.
"A person in Emma Wheeler trying to eat healthy not only has the barrier of cost of the healthy food, which is usually higher, but it's also how often they can get to it," Bilderback said. "And so the gardens will allow residents to grow their own food in that community."
Organizers of the 5K race emphasized that the event is for everyone, young, old, experienced runners and those who rarely leave the couch. It's not about who finishes first. It's about participating. It's about making time to save your life, said Dr. Ware.
At 6-foot-2, 290 pounds, Pastor Ware said he will amaze and motivate all who think he is too big to run a 5K.
"The other pastors have made a big joke about it, but I'm going to shock everybody," he said. "They think I'm out of shape, but they don't understand I've done some phenomenal things when I've made up my mind to do it."