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Sam Kuche/Healthy Chicago

A walker in Healthy Chicago walks in LaBagh Park near West Bryn Mawr Avenue.

Fitness clubs in Chicago work to get residents healthy

by Kelsey McQuade
Oct 10, 2012

The Chicago Marathon may be over but the race for fitness runs on all year as people stay in shape with exercise routines organized by dozens of independent fitness clubs in the Chicago area. 

Sam Kuche, a teacher from the North Side of Chicago, helped organize and now leads the Healthy Chicago group. Healthy Chicago gathers together about 75 members who love to walk. And walk fast. They average between 3.5-5 miles walks per meeting and they meet at least two times a week.

Kuche joined the group in 2007 because she found herself wanting to get out and do things while her husband was playing in a band. She soon began organizing some of the group's events.  

“Originally, it was a weight loss group that wasn’t very active, mostly meeting at someone’s house and eating and talking about losing weight,” Kuche said.

Shortly after she joined, she suggested starting walks so the members could actually do something to lose weight.

“I was working out by myself, trying to lose weight after I lost my mother to breast cancer. And I enjoyed walking but it can get lonely doing it by yourself all the time,” Kuche said.

Planning the activities is one of Kuche’s favorite parts of being the organizer of Healthy Chicago. She also loves the social aspect that goes along with the fitness walks.

“I get to relieve stress and see different areas in Chicago, traveling by foot is the best,” Kuche said.  

And while it might not be the Chicago Marathon, group members have their own goal. They plan to walk 22 miles around the shoreline of Lake Geneva this Saturday, for instance.

“I had “training” walks every other Tuesday starting at 5 miles, increasing by 0.5 miles and long walks up to 16 miles in forest preserves,” Kuche said.

Kuche has personal goals too.

“My goal is to be active and have fun doing it, maybe inspire others to get their butt off the couch, get the endorphins going and like doing so, and see the city and experience new sights and meet new people while doing it.”

Membership in Health Chicago is always open and some events involve a small fee.

Deanna Cagney, founder of Chicago Curvy Girl DIY Fitness, started the group on a whim in 2011 when she decided she wanted a support system for exercising.

“I wanted to find others like myself who wanted to be more active but were unable to commit to only ourselves or were intimidated by just stepping into a random fitness class full of athletic women,” said the River West resident who "sits in front of the computer 10 hours a day" for her day job..

She figured there had to be other women out there with similar fears, so she decided to do something about it. She sets up the events and she knows she has to attend. It is a simple way of holding herself accountable.

The group is predominantly plus size (or formerly plus size) women who want a support group to reach their fitness and health goals. Currently there are approximately 225 active members.

But what really makes the group special is the fitness help they receive. There are strength-training classes four times a week, yoga classes, Nia and Zumba. Classes involve various locations and trainers and Cagney orchestrates the arrangements. Fess for classes usually range between $10-$15 each.  

“We specifically seek out classes and trainers who are knowledgeable about how to instruct people who are heavier, or have never exercised or lapsed in their exercise plans for many years how to get back into it without injury,” Cagney said.

This allows for group members to be challenged without having to admit defeat. Cagney said she has integrated exercise as a part of her daily life, something that she would not have guessed one year ago.

“A number of us have been doing this for a while and are starting to seek out more aggressive levels of training, starting to train for 5Ks and so forth as we get stronger and more fit,” she said.

Cagney is running a 5K in November. And she is excited about it.

No matter how different these two clubs are, one common thread ties these women together: motivation. The key to their success is wanting a healthy and happy lifestyle that will last, Cagney said.

She said she hopes to pass this inspiration on to her members by continuing to offer events for women at all fitness levels.

“If you don’t really want to do it, excuses will take over,” Kuche said.