Running or walking, SF State's 5k brings awareness

When he crossed the finish line first, 23-year-old kinesiology major Christian Swanson got to live his year-long dream of running for wellness.

After his grandfather suffered a stroke a year ago, Swanson was inspired to find a creative way to bring awareness and support for the recovery of the condition. While working as a student manager for the campus recreation department, Swanson proposed an idea to organize a run for stroke recovery and promote health clinics in the area. Though his idea was not completely brought to life, the department still saw potential in part of his dream.

“It turned out that it would be more likely to be successful if we made it an overall walk for wellness,” Swanson said.

When Swanson quit the department in Fall 2011, he left the plans to create a walk for wellness with his colleagues Alex Royea and Brandon Brewster, campus recreation facility managers. His idea went from being very specific to a holistic approach on promoting health and overall well-being.

“I think wellness is always linked to positivity,” said Royea, a psychology major. “And anything in school related to positivity is good.”

Both Royea and Brewster felt the timing of the walk for wellness would be better placed closer to the end of the semester as a way to relieve stress and give students a reason to get out and exercise. The event took place April 22 and was open to the entire SF State community and Bay Area residents. Mothers, children, students, faculty and staff all participated in the event which looped around the entire campus twice. Joseph Greenwell, dean of students and student life director, was excited to participate in the 5k and contribute to the community.

“This is just a different aspect of student life,” Greenwell said, who ran the event in 35 minutes. “To bring our first 5k walk on campus is a big deal. It just brings the campus community together in a different way.”

Community involvement satisfied only part of Swanson’s vision. His grandfather’s stroke was a critical moment in Swanson’s life that compelled him to do something that would bring attention to the issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, strokes are the fourth leading cause of death in America as of 2009, after heart disease, cancer and lower respiratory diseases like emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

“It’s a big deal and it shouldn’t be overlooked,” Swanson said. “Especially when such small things, even like today (the 5k), can really make a difference.”

Strokes are like having a heart attack in the brain. Increasing physical activity, eating a healthy diet and quitting smoking can reduce the risk of having a stroke, according to the World Health Organization.

“Numerous studies have shown that even modest amounts of physical activity can create an enormous increase in cardiovascular fitness,” said Regula Dhedhi, a kinesiology professor.

For the 73 students and staff who participated in the event, it made a difference physically and socially. Participants ran the course with friends, family and partners. Campus recreation director Ajani Byrd not only ran himself, but invited his mother to participate in the event.

“After a year and change of actually working and figuring out the numbers, it has actually come to fruition,” Byrd said. “I’m really excited about that.”

Inspiration waited at the end of the finish line, as participants were offered healthy snacks and were encouraged to write down their own “words of wellness” on a poster at the end of the race.

“Wellness is subjective and we are aware of that,” Brewster said. “So what we try to do is provide lots of outlets for people to find out what wellness means to them.”

Though the initial idea was to develop awareness in regards to stroke victims within the Bay Area community, Swanson was pleased with the direction the campus took in promoting wellness.

“There’s a lot of contributing factors of lifestyle that wellness can really address,” he said. “I think one of the main goals for wellness and the walk was to increase activity and this sense of well-being and understanding the benefits of group activity.”

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