It is amazing how one individual or a group of individuals can have such an impact on you in a mere five days. The majority of my time in Texas was spent putting together a promotional video highlighting the success of the city of Los Fresnos in creating a community that values healthy living and supports its people in pursuing an active lifestyle. I was so impressed by the level of commitment and social support demonstrated by each individual we interviewed, whether they were members of the Los Fresnos FitFriends, active leaders within an elementary school or people working for the city. It was refreshing to experience firsthand public health efforts put into practice, especially those that work collaboratively with the community itself. It can be easy to get lost in the world of academia and this experience was a great reminder of why we do the work we do, and why I love the field of public health.
Like heading to any new place, I expected to be a bit of an outsider. I don’t speak Spanish and had never been to Texas before. However, I never really had a chance to feel like an outsider once I arrived at UT Brownsville (except perhaps when getting lost driving around). My colleague, Mava, and I were immediately welcomed as a part of the team at UT Brownsville whether it was being taken to Texas’s famous Whataburger, learning about resacas and historical battlefields in the Brownsville area, or meeting the inspirational individuals who are invaluable assets to the success of Tu Salud ¡Si Cuenta! (Your Health Matters). We met with a group of women who call themselves “Los Fresnos FitFriends.” They, along with many other community members, meet at a local park for kickboxing, Zumba and body sculpting classes. Mava and I were lucky enough to be able to participate in a Zumba and kickboxing class with these women and their energy and dedication was contagious. We had an absolute blast! And afterwards, they welcomed us into their group photo. The kindness of these women made us feel like a piece of the community and was not something you experience every day or everywhere you go, especially as outsiders to the community. The Los Fresnos FitFriends even added Mava and me to their fitness Facebook group and we hope to start participating in their challenges and to create a FitFriends Ann Arbor Chapter.
The community these women have created, as well as their passion for and pride in staying active, was evident immediately. What some people may be surprised to hear is that they don’t work this hard to lose weight necessarily. Instead, they dance and move to be strong, to be healthy, and to be happy. They do their best to stay active and have a great time doing it. They recognize that not everyone is going to be a marathon runner or a Zumba pro. Instead, they focus on just doing what they can, finding something they love to do and supporting each other along the way. Their mentality does not end with themselves, but impacts their families, friends and community.
This experience is a great reminder of the power of individuals and communities and how essential these players are in the field of public health. Most important, are the partnerships between individuals, communities, schools, city management, etc., in creating sustainable change toward health and active living.
When I was reflecting on my experience talking with these individuals, one of my favorite quotes came to mind: “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do” – John Wooden. So check out the video highlighting these incredible and hardworking individuals and hopefully you may be inspired to find something you love to do and to just keep moving in whatever ways you can. Best of luck and hope to see you running beside me on the streets of Ann Arbor!