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Churches helping members connect mind, body and spirit
Kelli Pirkle, right, gathers runners together before the begin the evening’s run Thursday afternoon at First Baptist Church. First Baptist Church members and guests are training for an upcoming 5K run in October.

Good News for Gainesville
What: Bike ride
When: 9 a.m. Oct. 2
Where: Riverbend Baptist Church, 1715 Cleveland Highway, Gainesville
How much: $35, includes a T-shirt, goody bag and lunch from Johnny's Barbecue.
More info: 770-534-1078

Run for Your Life 5K
When: 9 a.m. Oct. 16
Where: Laurel Park, 3100 Old Cleveland Highway, Gainesville
How much: $20 for adults, $15 for ages 18 and under before Oct. 7, after Oct. 7, $25 for adults, $20 for 18 and under, family rates as well. Cost includes T-shirts, child care, children's activities, and awards for age divisions
More info: 770-535-0478

Look for Ashley Bates' column on her experience running her first 5K in October.



There are so many ways that churches minister to the community and their own congregation but one of the newest ways is through fitness.

Churches have realized that if they have physically fit and healthy members then that will translate to their spiritual life.

"I just think that our minds and our bodies and our spirits are all so very much connected, that when you don't have health in one it effects the other," Liz Coates Isandoro, manager of the Family Life Center at First Baptist Church in Gainesville. "I think that first of all we gain not only confidence in ourselves but also stress relief and all those things that we need emotionally and therefore I think there is a very spiritual connection there."

Isandoro and Kelli Pirkle for the second year have organized and coached the Couch Potato to 5K program, a nine-week running program that has helped about 60 people run their first 5K and live a healthier lifestyle. The training ends with a 5K on Oct. 2 at Laurel Park in Gainesville.

The Couch Potato to 5K program is free and open to anyone in the community.

"I would say about 75 percent of them (the runners) complete the program and finish their first 5K and for most of them the first 5K they've ever run," Isandoro said. "I think it's a great source of outreach to the community and it's a great way for us to get to know other people in the community and still provide a service but also it's a great time of fellowship. For people to come together in a Christian environment and do something healthy together."

Denise Collum isn't a member of First Baptist and is a first-time runner in the program and is loving every minute of the fellowship and training. She heard of the Couch Potato to 5K program because her son, Blake, 4, attends preschool at First Baptist.

"I gained a lot of weight with Blake and my last trip to the doctor I had super high blood pressure and they put me on blood pressure medication and this just really seem to fit in," she said. "I had been going to the gym but I had to do a serious lifestyle change. This fit in with my health issues, meeting people ... it's fantastic and I love it. I think the fellowship and the community really motivates me."

Collum's husband, Eric, also is participating in the program and is set to run the 5K in October.

The Rev. Chuck DeBardeleben, pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church saw the opportunity to incorporate fitness into his ministry and the community last year.

In 2009, Westminster organized a bike ride that benefits local charities and many local churches. The ride was a success; the next ride will be Oct. 2.

"I don't know of any other place that has this many different churches, Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Assembly of God, doing something together, that's pretty unusual," he said.

This year a group of at least 13 local churches are sponsoring the community ride for the second year and cyclists have a choice in racing in a 25, 40 or 60-mile ride.

Whether it's running or cycling Pirkle, a personal trainer at the Family Life Center, thinks that physical fitness really does a body and mind good. There was a time in Pirkle's life where she wasn't in perfect physical health. Since she has become fit, everything has really come together for her emotionally and spiritually.

"I have been all over the place as far as fitness and weight," she said. "When I was heavier ... when I work out that's just me and I'm not doing for my husband, my children, I'm not doing it for anybody but me. It's my time to reflect and being a Christian and that being an important part of my life, I naturally go to a meditative, worshipful place when I work out."

The running program at First Baptist has been so successful that a 10K training program is in the works for the spring.

"I know this sounds like a cliche, but if it helps one or two people realize their potential and motivate them to take care of themselves, that's a good thing," Pirkle said. "We would do it for a group of 200 or a group of two."


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