Guest Blogger! Jessica Ekstrom!

I like to utilize my blog in a number of ways.  1, Obviously, I’m trying to keep you guys interested so you’ll actually donate.  2, I love talking about myself.  (Just kidding!  Kinda…) 3, To show off my new nail polish! 4, To give you fellow runners, as well as aspiring runners a taste of my greatness (or to give you some important tidbits I’ve leaned along the way), 5, To uplift some folks in the community that I think are doing some great things.

Jessica Ekstrom is a cool girl that I met while I was working for NC State’s Department of Campus Recreation.  Still to this day, it’s one of my favorite jobs.  There’s nothing better than working with a bunch of like-minded, healthy individuals, which is what I like about my job now.  Anyhoo, Jess is a youngin who has totally got her head on straight, and she’s made waves all over the country with her sweet project.  Jess, everyone!


“Right before my 20th birthday in the summer of 2011, I participated in an internship at the Make-A-Wish Foundation that changed my life forever.

Everyday, I got to wake up and grant the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses. I took day trips to visit the wish kids at their houses and bring them their favorite toys. We received hundreds of letters from wish children that said we changed their lives; little did they know, they were changing mine.

One day, I was pulling my hair back in a ponytail and thought about the hundreds of girls I encountered that lose their hair to cancer. I saw how much losing their hair had an impact on their self-esteem and confidence level.

I thought about the thousands of girls around the world losing their hair to chemotherapy. Being a young girl presents many struggles with self-esteem already and losing their hair as a result of a life-threatening illness is traumatic. Not only do they have to face the risk of losing their lives, they feel that they lose a part of their feminine identity. 
I found that the girls loved to wear headbands to still feel “girly” after hair loss instead of wigs.

Therefore I started Headbands of Hope! For every headband purchased, one is given to a girl with cancer and $1 is donated to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation to fund life-saving childhood cancer research.

Since we launched in April, I’ve had the opportunity to distribute headbands to girls in the hospitals across the nation. The best part of my job is opening the door to their room and seeing their faces light up when I bring dozens of colorful headbands to their beds to choose from.  Even though it’s fun and fulfilling to bring the girls headbands in the hospitals, I’m constantly reminded that there still isn’t a cure.

Childhood cancer takes the lives of more children in the U.S. than any other disease – in fact, more than many other childhood diseases combined.  Progress is also especially slow in curing adolescents and young adults, because federal funding for childhood cancers is a fraction compared to adult cancers.  Therefore, attention needs to be brought to childhood cancer.

Progress can’t be made without research. Research can’t be done without funding. And funding can’t be done without awareness. Headbands of Hope aims to start with awareness and end with a cure.

Ever since I was a little girl, purpose has been close to my heart. My drive and work ethic came from knowing my sweat was going to fulfill a need, someway somehow. Cheri and here project “Running for Haiti” does exactly that. Run for purpose. In Cheri’s case, she saw a need in Haiti and used her passion for running as a tool to help.

Whether you’re selling headbands or running around Raleigh, look around you for an opportunity to make the world a better place!”

If you’re looking to make a difference, and you’re stumped, the best way to come up with an idea is to look at what you love.  Do you love to sing?  Do you love to dance?  Do you love chicken?  Find a way to turn that passion into action! And non-profit organizations love volunteers.  If there’s a cause you’re particularly stoked about, jump on board with a 501c3 that could use your skill.  It could turn into a job for you later!

Is working out for White people? (hint:nope)

What a lucky week!  We have not one, but two guest bloggers this week!  Let me start by introducing our topic.  ::sips Crystal Lite:: Ahem.

I’m training for a marathon (number 27 of the list of “Stuff White People Like”).  And I get mostly encouragement from my friends and family, but I get the occasional hate from folks, and a whole heck of a lot from other black women.  Saying I’m crazy, saying I work out too much, and that I’m too thin.  But for doing a seemingly good and healthy thing for myself, I’m getting a lot of discouragement.  So the past few weeks on the road, on the treadmill, and in the studio, I’m looking around, and I seem to be in the minority in these places.  And according to stats on obesity, it looks like I’m right, we (black women) are not doing a whole lot of working out.  So I asked Facebook, I asked Huffington Post, and I asked my pretty friend Theresa what the deal is.  Why are we (black women) in the minority at the gym and in races?  Why is the gym so white?  Why don’t black women work out?

Helmer Graduation

T: “I’m not sure how many times I’ve heard/read that black women don’t work out. Countless times I’m sure.  But I’ve never really understood it because for me personally, and all the black ladies I know, this isn’t necessarily a reality.

After reading an article from Huffington Post, (,  and seeing a few threads on reddit


I wanted to say my piece:

This whole ‘black women don’t do exercise because of their hair’ is a tired narrative, y’all.  I mean I get it, our hair requires a different kind of maintenance and products than advertised in our society, therefore people think we have the short end of the stick in the appearance and hair department (we don’t, IMO).  I don’t want to go on a hair rant because I’m here to talk about my experience and observation as a black lady who exercises.  I started swimming in the 1st grade and did so competitively until 10th grade.  During this time (3rd grade-10thgrade) I was getting my hair chemically straightened and I would blow dry my hair and straighten it every time I swam.  It’s honestly a wonder I even had a hair on my head with all that chemical damage, but I digress.  After I quit swimming, I took up working out at the gym.  Nothing deterred me because I viewed physical fitness as part of my life and something that everyone in my family was always interested in.

After reading through those reddit posts, it seems that many women are interested in exercising whether it is running, classes, or sports.  The main thread throughout is like I said above, exercising isn’t viewed as a priority.  And until it is, I feel we’ll still be here spinning our wheels and waiting for some different result (that really won’t happen unless there’s some sort of grassroots effort).

My expert opinion? It’s really not all that serious.  People are making all these excuses for black women not exercising like hair and other appearance factors when I personally think it has everything to do with cultural indoctrination that exercising isn’t fun or it’s too hard AND that it would seem that some black women don’t have support systems encouraging health and fitness.  Without someone laying the foundation in the home, how is the idea supposed to diffuse amongst the general population?”

Theresa makes some excellent points.  As a woman who exercises, she doesn’t feel that the hair thing is a good excuse.  I’m honored to have perspective from another woman of color.

Here a few bullets from other ladies that we’ve gleaned from our research.

Black women don’t exercise because:

  • They think exercise is for white people.  Yoga, Pilates, and Zumba are perceived as being for skinny white girls. Not so, but that’s the perception.
  • Like we said before, the hair thing.  They don’t want to spend a ton of money on their hair on Saturday to sweat it out in my Zumba class on Monday. (I hope everyone recognizes that this particular line of reasoning means you’re choosing your hair over wellness)
  • Exercise isn’t viewed as being valuable.  Why go work out when you can go home and take a nap instead.
  • Exercise sucks/hurts (but you feel so good after)!
  • Black culture reveres a more curvy shape. Being thin is not necessarily considered a good thing.  And working out may cause you to lose your shape.  (You can still have a nice shape if you work out).
  • Exercise wasn’t a thing in a lot of our households! I grew up mainly in the suburbs.  But a lot of minorities and a lot of people with lower SES status live in areas without yards, sidewalks, YMCAs, and all the other good stuff that cultivates a good relationship with diet and exercise.

Long story longer, four out of five African-American women are overweight or obese. In 2010, black women were 70 percent more likely to be obese than their white counterparts, according to the US Department of Health.  That’s bad.  That’s really bad. Obesity influences rates of cancer, Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, high cholesterol, and hypertension.  All that to avoid sweating for an hour a day?  Not really worth it.

So here’s the deal.  Just…MOVE.  You don’t have to run a marathon to get the bennies and perks of working out.  Walk!  Dance!  If you like to shovel, shovel your way to fitness, I don’t know.  The point is, get moving so we’re not suffering all for the sake of a good perm.

Guest Blogger! Vinny Marchionni!

I am so pleased to introduce to you our third guest blogger!  You guys remember yoga Kerri?  Well Vinny is yoga Kerri’s husband.  We usually see him around the store about once a week or so, and he’s a pleasure to have around.  They win the favorite couple award!  Anyhoo, enough intros – here’s Vinny!


“I consider myself a runner.  Since the Nike Pegasus made its debut in the 80’s, I’ve been logging miles three to five times a week.  I am currently training for a marathon and my runs are getting longer.  I’ve been thinking about long runs and I have a theory that I’d like to share.  The key to enjoying long runs is extending the portion of the run that you feel the best, for me this is the middle.

The middle is the sweet spot during your run where you feel the best.  Your breathing is settled, calm and smooth.  You feel nothing in your feet and legs.  Your mind slips comfortably from thought to thought, conscious of the world around you while working in the background on a subject that you enjoy.  I tend to plan meals, deconstructing fine dining and working on recipes.  Other runners I’ve spoken to work on complex math problems, plan yoga classes, or map their next vacation.  The bottom line is if you can extend this portion of your long run you will be able to add distance and have a better time doing it.  So I am always looking for ways to extend the middle.  One way to extend the middle is to shorten the beginning.

For me, the beginning is the hardest part of any long run. This is the two to three miles at the outset that test my dedication and resolve.  During these first miles I’m reintroduced to all my past pains and injuries.  Like a roll call of old enemies, Tendinitis, Fasciitis, and I.T. Band syndrome stand to be recognized.  Things hurt, breathing is labored and I’m wondering why I’m doing this.  I’ve learned that a proper warm up can help.  Double tying your running shoes or stomping around waiting for your Garmin to locate satellites does not constitute a warm up.  A local running coach suggested I try Dynamic Stretching.   I’ll save you the Google search.  Dynamic Stretching is the series of exercises you’ve seen fast guys doing before a competitive 5 or 10K.  With names like ankle pops, high knees, but kicks and glute walk they are probably best left to the shirtless front of the pack guys.  I’ve been doing some basic squats and lunges to warm up the big muscles and it helps.  I can get into the middle sooner and feel fresher during the run.

At the other end of the middle there’s a point in your long runs when your body starts telling you it’s had enough.  Hopefully you are close to your goal distance when you reach this point, but I often find myself a couple miles short when I get into the end of the run. During the last few miles the repetitive pounding takes its toll on my legs and hips.  The result is an ache that is punctuated with every step.  There isn’t much you can do physically to get through the end of your run.  I try to save a few ounces of water and an emergency gel in case I really hit the wall, but for me the end is a mental exercise.  To extend the middle I try to delay the start of the end.  I use all the usual tricks, crank up the power songs and break the last few miles into smaller segments.  I promise to stop at the next quarter mile mark and repeatedly break the promise.  When I’m really hurting I go deep, remembering why I run and how lucky I am.   In the last few hundred yards I try to visualize the finish of my next race and the feeling of satisfaction that comes with reaching a goal.  I guess the very end of the end is actually pretty good.”

Dang!  Couldn’t have said it better myself.  Snaps for Vinny!  Do your next long run, and tell me this mantra doesn’t run through your head!

This is what I do in my secret life….

When I’m not raising funds for Haiti, or working at the local running specialty shop, I teach Zumba.

I stumbled upon it when I was like 16, and I was hooked (thank you, Koh Herlong!)

I think I’m pretty good at it…my classes seem to like me, anyways. Anyhoo, this past weekend was our Holiday party, so the antlers got another workout.

Zumba!These are my Zumba friends, whom I love SO dearly. Nora, Erin, Me, Adis, and Kathy! (Nora is a fellow runner – hopefully she’ll make a repeat appearance in this blog – as long as I’ve been running, she’s been my total inspiration)