In Huntsville, Black Girls Run Promotes Healthy Lifestyles

Fleet Feet Hunstville runner Tanisha Arseneau

Tanisha Arseneau lives in Huntsville, Alabama. She is a community leader, runner, bodybuilder, wife and mother of three. Tanisha commits to a healthy lifestyle and loves to help others move more so they can feel better and live longer. She serves on the board for Girls on the Run of Northern Alabama and volunteers as their Program Coordinator. She is also an ambassador for her local chapter of Black Girls Run.

Black Girls Run (BGR) is for all women, but especially supports African-American women and aims to get them walking and running. Community service is an important component of BGR. The group supports area causes like Relay for Life, initiatives for the homeless and Girls on the Run (GOTR) of Northern Alabama. They volunteer with GOTR teams and at events, providing supplies, snacks and other necessities for area teams.

We caught up with Tanisha to learn about the community programs she serves and what keeps her motivated.

Tanisha Arseneau, of Huntsville, Alabama, runs with a group

Tell us about your involvement with Black Girls Run

I learned about the program through the fitness studio I owned at the time. I met a lot of ladies then, and one of them told me about the organization. There was a local chapter here starting up, and ladies would meet up for a walk or run and encourage each other.

I started going to one of the locations at 5 a.m., which was a struggle for me because I don’t like getting up that early. It was me and three of my other friends. We motivated each other and would carpool to Alabama A&M to run or walk. We did it consistently for about six months or more.

In the midst of it, one of the ladies had to step down from being the run leader. I became an alternate run leader in 2015, and eventually I stepped up to be the run lead. Then the local ambassador needed to step down. I decided to apply because if there wasn’t an ambassador here, there wouldn't be a program in Huntsville. I realized it was a great organization, and we really need it here.

Why is the organization so important to you?

There is a high rate of obesity in Huntsville. There is a problem of people not moving enough. This community needs to see how important it is to get moving, whether it be walking, running, lifting weights or eating healthy.

BGR is not just a regular running group. It’s a community, and we need that community here. The ladies look forward to it. They watch the Facebook page. They look forward to meeting up with others to help motivate them. We have over 700 members on the page. About 50-100 are more active but others are watching the page. We may not see them, but I’ve had strangers come up to me in public and say that they watch the BGR page, and they’re getting inspired to go out and walk or run. The other run leads say that people tell them the same thing.

There are so many of these women out there who are searching for community and want to get back into running and fitness. I think it’s important that Huntsville communities see how fitness, healthy eating, can help us live longer, feel better and be happy.

You serve on the board for Girls on the Run, and you’re a volunteer Program Coordinator as well. How did you get involved with them?

I worked for the Boys and Girls Club, and I was looking for activities for the girls. The boys there have a lot of activities that they can do. The girls have options for cheer or dance, but not as much physical activity as the boys, and I wanted to find something for them to do.

Six months later I got an email from Tonya (the Executive Director of GOTR of Northern Alabama) about bringing Girls on the Run to the area. I joined the steering committee, and we saw the need for the program.

Girls in third through fifth grade—they’re still learning themselves. They may get picked on or think certain things about themselves. The program is curriculum-based. Not only are we teaching them about skills to use in their lives, but we’re also teaching them about being healthy.

When they meet twice a week, they set a goal for themselves on how many laps they want to walk or run. Or skip, jog or hop. We tell them they don’t have to run it! They set a goal for how far they want to go. They either hit their goal or go above and beyond it. And they always have a sense of feeling great, feeling positive. I think it’s important for that organization to be available to girls all around the world.

How did you start running?

I started with trying to sprint faster than the boys in the neighborhood, and then in high school, I joined the track team. My coach had me running distance, but I wanted to sprint. I would be in a mile race and quit after 800 meters because I didn’t want to do it. But in 2014, my best friend would force me to run with her.

Tanisha Arseneau inspires others through Black Girls Run

Even in 80-degree weather, we would be running hills. I couldn’t stand it, but I did it to run with her, and I needed to exercise. And then one day she talked me into doing a half marathon. I told her she was crazy but decided if we train together for this race, I’ll do it. Then she moved away to Michigan.

I had to train alone here (in Huntsville). I would go out in the dark in my neighborhood and run six miles in a loop over and over in a half mile loop, and eventually got up to 12 miles by the end of the training.

You just ran around and around for 12 miles? That’s commitment! What kept you going?

I don’t like to give up. I had already signed up for the race. I didn’t want to waste my money, and I didn’t want to go to the race and not be able to finish. My goal was to finish no matter how long it took me. During the race, I wanted to give up a couple of times. My legs started to cramp. My knees started to hurt. I just wanted to finish. When I crossed the line, it was this overwhelming, great feeling because I had never thought I could do that distance before.

You said you never give up. Why not?

I don’t like to give up. It makes me feel lazy. I like to continue to push through until I can get it done, no matter how long it takes me. It makes me feel good inside because I like to see how far I can push myself to get it done. If I get too comfortable and don’t have a goal to reach for, I’ll be unhealthy. I’ll get lazy and I won’t get things done. I think that’s for anything in my life.

What would life be like if you hadn’t gotten into fitness?

If I hadn’t, I would have high blood pressure and probably be a diabetic. When I was pregnant with my second child in 2006, I was tested for gestational diabetes and was told I had a 50/50 chance of becoming a type 2 diabetic.

I made a lot of changes with nutrition, but it wasn’t enough so the doctor put me on insulin. After I had my daughter, I began getting more serious about my health. I started working at the gym and got back to working out on the treadmill. I also changed things in my diet like less red meats, less pork, very little to no fried meats, less processed foods, no dairy.

What obstacles make it hard for people to commit to a lifestyle of fitness?

I think the biggest obstacle is time, just getting out there. But once they set it aside and decide they’re going to do it, they’re fine. And the second thing is that when people hear the word “run” in the group name, they think that they have to be a runner. And so they’re afraid and they don’t come out.

They’re like, “Well I’m slow. I need to start walking first so I can’t join the group because I’m not a runner.” So we explain to them, you don’t have to be a runner. There are a lot of us who walk first. And then we start to run if you want to run. I tell them to come out. You won’t be left behind.

By Kate Schwartz. Schwartz has been running competitively for 20 years, and she currently runs with the Asheville Running Collective. She lives in Asheville, NC, with her husband, Alex, and their cat, Clementine.

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