Fort4Fitness: How Fort Wayne got moving to become a healthy city

At one time, Fort Wayne made the list of America’s 8 fattest cities. It was more than an image problem. It was a harsh reality that many concerned stakeholders were desperate to reverse. How do you get people moving in a way that speaks to them and meets them where they are?

Fort4Fitness started like many nonprofits do, as a grassroots, volunteer-led organization, says Satin Lemon the organization's current Executive Director. 

"Our Founder and Board Chairman, Tim Kenesy of MedPro Group, saw a news story about Fort Wayne being the second-most obese city in Indiana," Lemon says. "He got together with Pat Sullivan from Hylant Group and said, 'I want to do something about this.' So that's how Fort4Fitness was born."

The product of these collective efforts was the first Fort4Fitness Fall Festival in 2008, which drew more than 6,200 runners, walkers, spectators, and attendees to downtown Fort Wayne for a weekend of races and fun. It gave local people a goal to work toward at multiple ability levels and made fitness a community event instead of a chore.

At its peak, the event boasted more than 10,000 participants, and over the years they’ve had racers representing several countries. It's grown its offerings, too, adding a Spring Cycle and Fantasy of Lights 5k and 2k.

Fort4Fitness' Fall Festival has gained momentum over the past decade.

Lemon attributes Fort4Fitness's growth in scope and scale of the programming to having the right people at the table. She says they’re a mighty staff of three paid employees with a strong board of directors behind them. 
Fantasy of Lights is one of Northeast Indiana’s favorite winter holiday events.
“It’s definitely not a sit-and-watch type of board,” Lemon says. “So we have two of our board members who are in charge of races. Brad Altevogt, owner and president of Three Rivers Running Company, handles the Fantasy of Lights race, but then we also do a lot of outreach for our kids' marathon program.

Speaking of outreach, Lemon says regardless of the program, it’s all about encouraging people with a simple, common goal: Let's get up and move.

“We really want to get just people up off the couch,” she says. “That’s why we have so many different events and different distances. You can do anything from a 10-mile race to 100k, that goes all the way to Ohio and back. So we're not saying, 'You need to be the best. You need to be the fastest.' We just want you to be doing something.”

For those wanting to get more serious about preparing for the race, the organization sponsors a Fort4Fitness running group. A trained coach from Three Rivers Running Company facilities the sessions. Lemon says the group is “all-encompassing” in that people tend to mesh well with those who are at a similar pace and have aligned goals. 

Fort4Fitness units people from a variety of backgrounds.

The real magic happens when people are able to set their mind to something and achieve it via participation in Fort4Fitness. For example, they’ve heard stories of people using the race training to hit a weight goal, while others have used it to rebound from an injury.

Lemon and her team collect these testimonials and use them as fodder to inspire those who need a nudge. 

“I think it helps when you hear about other people going through similar situations and how they've come out on the other side,” she says. 

Fort4Fitness Spring Cycle 2019

The 8th annual Spring Cycle is on Saturday, June 1, 2019, featuring a 10 Mile Family Ride, medium and long distances, and a Metric Century 100K (63 miles). Learn more on the organization's website.
Signup for Email Alerts