On the first day of fall, the city of Fort Wayne, Indiana came together to participate in a new echelon of endeavors. Children, seniors, experienced athletes and nervous novices trained to the best of their abilities in preparation for the 4th annual Fort4Fitness. Their collective performances were a brilliant success and a strong statement of health and commitment for this community.
This much anticipated event emerged as a direct response to Fort Wayne's repeated ranking on Men’s Health Magazine’s annual list of "Fattest Cities". They have also recognized the city among the "Least Active", but we were sadly absent from the "Smartest Cities" category.
Those of us who are proud to call the Summit City home recognized that there are only two choices: either move or get moving.
Fort4Fitness launched Fort Wayne’s first half marathon (13.1 miles) in September of 2008 with hopes of gathering three to four hundred people. Beyond expectations, they had to stop accepting registrations at 3,000 and scramble to run the race with only a few hitches (like neglecting to notify city residents of street closures…oops). The next two years capped at 5,000 and 7,500 participants respectively, and this year topped 9,500.
This weekend, competitors from 30 states and 3 countries were registered to participate in a variety of activities. In all, over 25,000 people gathered in the Tin Caps Stadium to celebrate a changing culture of wellness. Local hotels were booked full and restaurants hosted pre and post-race parties. Live music lined the course, neighborhoods posted cheerful decorations, and families and friends held signs of support.
On Friday night, a brisk breeze brought cool undertones to the warm sunlight as the kids’ and seniors’ marathons culminated with the final leg of their summer-long circuit that began in June. Triumphant smiles, made larger than life on the digital display, connected every face with a name announced as each racer crossed the finish line.
At 7 am on Saturday, under blue and pink hues of sunrise, downtown Fort Wayne was packed with people. Events included a 4 mile run/walk, a 10k and a half marathon. Throngs of participants proudly sported their registration numbers while cameras flashed, people laughed and music thumped a rhythmic invitation to the starting line. When the gun shot was heard, cheers of excitement erupted from the collective smoke of warm breath in the chilly air.
Fort4Fitness is more than just a race or a weekend event. It’s a lifestyle that is changing the way we view ourselves as a community. Next year, during Memorial Day weekend, the Spring Cycle event will be added to the calender. It will include leisurely rides for families, longer courses for competition and a criterium race for licensed cyclists. Those who dare to dream hope to add two additional contests including a summer swim and a winter challenge to balance the four seasons and keep Fort Wayne moving all year long.
Training schedules, healthy food choices, active wear, and music playlists are motivating us to get off the couch and skip that last slice of pizza. Fort Wayne is becoming a place that old-timers won’t recognize and newcomers embrace. We’re hiking, biking and swimming out of "Fattest City", and we’re not looking back!
To learn more about Fort4Fitness, please visit their website.
Photos by Tony Frantz