Aliya has been a pacer for our Gazelle Girl Half Marathon, is a committee member for our Whoville 5k fun run and has volunteered at several of our Gazelle Sports events. Aliya's fitness journey started from one race to now traveling to 25+ states to reach her goal of running a race in each state. She has currently run over 45+ half marathons and has started S.T.A.R.S. (Sisters Taking Action Reversing Statistics), in an effort to tackle the alarming numbers of obesity, high blood pressure, and cancer awareness in the female African-American community.
The race that changed it all.
In 2010, I entered my oldest daughter in the Grand Rapids Children's Marathon. Over the course of several weeks kids collect 26.2 miles to complete a full marathon. On race day, we ran the last 1.2 miles with family and the kids who have been training for the event. There are several scheduled meet-ups during the marathon experience. I could not complete the 1.2 miles on race day without stopping (several times- ha!). I watched my daughter in awe and I was inspired. We completed that event for years, more children of mine in tow. I was inspired by the training runs, and the actual race where I could not run the entire 1.2 miles without stopping.
"Nearly topping the scale at 200 lbs and towering over the world at a whopping 5 foot 2, I decided to take control of my life."
This life event inspired me to sign up for my own timed distance event. In 2011 I decided to make some major lifestyle changes that would affect my entire family and the trajectory of my life in ways that I could not imagine. I was eating fast food on a regular basis. The McDonald’s staff knew my order like most people know my name. It was probably three days a week that I frequented the establishment. I volleyed between Mickey D’s and Pizza Hut for dinner. What started as just late night cravings during my third trimester of pregnancy morphed into regular weekly need-to-feed habitual appointments. As a result my entire family had fallen into this sunken place. Nearly topping the scale at 200 lbs and towering over the world at a whopping 5 foot 2, I decided to take control of my life.
"...once in shape moms who had taken a back seat- glorified chauffeurs, catering to schedules and demanding athletic schedules of children"
I had to make some changes and there are tons of reasons why. I have three children. I lost my mom and dad to health related illnesses and I worked too hard to give up on life. I wanted to see my kids grow up. I wasn’t going to allow the husband that I love to replace me with some younger version of me. Yes, I watch way too many movies! It was time. After having children it became harder for me to maintain a healthy lifestyle and like most moms I was rarely putting me first. I often looked for easier and faster ways to accomplish goals, meals, and ways to end the day.
When I started my personal journey I discovered that there were other women just like me, formerly active, once in shape moms who had taken a back seat- glorified chauffeurs, catering to schedules and demanding athletic schedules of children but more importantly diagnosed with high cholesterol, diabetes, and more. It was time. There is strength in numbers and we found unity in our community. In 2012, I created S.T.A.R.S. (Sisters Taking Action Reversing Statistics) ™ in an effort to tackle the alarming numbers of health disparities in communities of color. COVID-19 reminded us how marginalized communities are often most vulnerable when it comes to health related illnesses. Health disparities affect us all and we must all play a part in social equity.
Today I have completed 4 full marathons, 45 half marathons, and run in 26 states toward my 50 state half-marathon journey. It all started with huffing and puffing chasing my kid around a track. My first half-marathon, Gazelle Girl Half-Marathon and 5k training was no match for what was to come. I later was given the privilege and honor to pace for the very half-marathon that gave me wings into the half-marathon world. There's no greater race joy. I still stand at the finish line clapping and screaming for ladies as they come tearfully through because it was just a short while ago that those same emotions flooded my entire being. Every kid emerging with a "you've got this Mommy" sign still sends me into RUN THROUGH THE PAIN MODE. It's a secret society.
My constant reminders to share:
Your health is your wealth
Make exercise a priority
I lost 40 lbs without a gym membership. Walking is Free. 30 minutes a day counts. Park further away from the door. 10,000 steps a day and count your calories. Above all, pencil your exercise in your calendar like your doctor appointments. Don't cheat yourself.
Invest in you.
I want to enjoy the fruits of my labor. (If you die tomorrow the job will be posted, right?) What are you doing today to enhance your tomorrow? You ARE WORTH IT!
Drink your water!
The benefits are tremendous. If you have to dress it up with limes, lemons, strawberries- go for it, but aim to get half your body weight in ounces a day
Compete and Challenge
Meet a S.T.A.R.? Meet a competitor! We live to compete. Find yourself an amazing accountability partner or group and see who can drink the most water a day, accumulate the most steps in a week, plank the longest. Life is a challenge, why not wager your best health goals?
About the Author:
Aliya Armstrong received a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in English Education from Western Michigan University and a Master’s in Counseling Education from Grand Valley State University (GVSU). She's a strong advocate for urban education, health fitness, and working moms. Her community philanthropic efforts include physical fitness activities, spiritual growth and education surrounding health disparities that exist in urban communities. Her professional interests focus on health fitness, urban education opportunities, and educational awareness. She is the founder of S.T.A.R.S.® (Sisters Taking Action Reversing Statistics) and her current projects include closing gaps of awareness in the urban community surrounding cancer awareness, health initiatives and obesity among minorities. She is the President of S.T.A.R.S.®, Co-Chair of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated® CAP committee, and New Hope Baptist Church’s Health and Wellness Ministry Co-leader. She was a 2014 Grand Rapids Power Award Finalist for her contributions to making a difference in the community (2014) and the Linc Revitalization Community Spirit Award for Health and Wellness (2015). Her media mentions include Moms Get Motivated to be Healthy on Maranda (WOTV4forwomen), Why I Run (WoodTV8) and Women Who Run This Town (Women’s Lifestyle Magazine). Her personal passions include motivating women to live healthier lifestyles, educating others, and providing opportunities for those who struggle with access to opportunities.