It's hard enough to work out when the gym is just down the street. But many people living in low-income and high-crime urban areas don't have a place to exercise for miles—and if there is one, it's too expensive. Recognizing the problem, three women have been donating their time, know-how, and considerable energies to giving such communities the gift of fitness.
After dancer Kim Carruthers, 33, moved to Los Angeles in 1998, she began teaching Pilates to celebrities like Tyra Banks and Patricia Arquette. "Having red carpet clients is amazing. But with obesity so prevalent, I wanted to take Pilates to the inner city and introduce it to those who are financially less fortunate," says Carruthers, who trained and performed with Alvin Ailey. Soon she started making the rounds as a volunteer Pilates instructor at the Challengers Boys & Girls Club and elementary schools throughout Los Angeles's notoriously gang-ridden South Central, helping her young students tune in to their bodies and talking to them about healthy food. This summer she plans to open her own South Central studio called Pilates in the Hood for children and adults.
The Gospel of Exercise
"The idea of taking fitness to a higher level started with my family," says 44-year-old Dallas-and Miami-based fitness guru Donna Richardson Joyner. "Dad had two strokes. Mom was overweight, with high cholesterol and high blood pressure. At every family gathering, I saw unhealthy people who needed inspiration to change." In 2000 she helped her mother, LaVerne Richardson, a devout churchgoer, apply her unwavering faith in God to changing her own physical "temple," which eventually led to Sweating in the Spirit—a workout incorporating words from the scripture and information about health. In addition to educating trainers and group leaders to implement the program in churches around the country (at least ten to date), Richardson Joyner produced a Sweating in the Spirit DVD featuring live performances by gospel greats Byron Cage, RiZen, and Martha Munizzi.
Making the Grade
In 1996 math teacher Jenelle Spearmon, now 34, started Lady Eagles, an all-girls basketball team at John Hope College Preparatory High School in Englewood, a gang-infested neighborhood on Chicago's South Side—all the more amazing because a heart condition had kept her from playing sports while she was growing up. Almost from the outset, the girls responded to her dedication: From 1997 to 2000, they were the city champions, and in 2003 they won the Illinois State Class A Championship. "We're close; we've watched games, eaten meals, even gone to church together," says Spearmon of her girls. She also holds them to high academic standards, reminding them that they're students first, then athletes. "Last year six senior students on my team won athletic scholarships, and one girl snagged an academic scholarship to the University of Minnesota," she says with den-mother-like pride.