Aaron Perry is the first African American insulin-dependent diabetic in the world to ever finish an Ironman Triathlon.
“If you want to live until you're 80, you better be doing something about it at age 40.”
That’s always been Aaron Perry’s motto as he prepares to host his 3rd Annual Aaron Perry Run & Fitness Walk at Penn Park on Saturday June 16. The event will be hosted in conjunction with the 23rd annual Juneteenth Festival.
“Our longevity and our quality life are poor if we’re not in good health,” Perry says in an interview with The Madison Times. “At the end of the day, it takes all of us, but it really falls on the individual to make that commitment to give their body a fighting chance to survive. We need to be a presence for our younger generation… that’s what we have the opportunity to do at this Run/Walk this year.”
Perry is the first African American insulin-dependent diabetic in the world to ever finish an Ironman Triathlon. He started the Run/Walk a few years ago because he was appalled at the racial disparity statistics he saw in many health categories — particularly with statistics concerning obesity and diabetes.
“We have a really important opportunity to make changes that will affect the livelihood of children that are coming up and that are being diagnosed with diabetes [and] fatty liver disease. One of my goals this year is to make the Aaron Perry Fitness Run/Walk the largest minority run/walk event in the state of Wisconsin.”
That is, indeed, a lofty goal. Perry says that there is another organization in Milwaukee that is competing with him to be the largest. He says that he doesn’t mind that one bit.
“What my event has done is to set the bar pretty high for communities of color and it appears that it is making the difference… people want to beat it,” Perry says. “I’m OK with the competition because what they are saying is that they, too, are going to work to get people of color out to exercise. That’s the whole goal is to use my event as a jumpstart for somebody’s fitness. When people either run or walk and they cross that finish line and I put that medal around their neck, that’s when that pride and that attitude that ‘I can do this’ really kicks in.”
Perry hopes to represent the African American community as the new face of diabetes within the state of Wisconsin. He wants to empower, inspire, and lead efforts to restore wellness. Currently, the health statistics are not that good. Compared to the general population, African Americans are disproportionately affected by diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association:
• 3.7 million, or 14.7 percent of all African Americans aged 20 years or older have diabetes.
• African Americans are 1.8 times more likely to have diabetes as non-Hispanic whites.
• 25 percent of African Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 have diabetes.
• 1 in 4 African American women over 55 years of age has diabetes.
Youngsters get ready to do the Aaron Perry Run & Fitness Walk
Currently, the African American community has created a culture that’s proven unhealthy for many of its citizens, Perry says. The excessive weight gain coupled with the predisposition for diabetes has made black youth between the ages of 10-19 the new faces of diabetes.
“This is the first time in the history of our country that kids may not outlive their parents,” Perry says. “The Aaron Perry Run/Walk is important for the people in our community who don’t believe that black and Latino people will exercise. People think that we don’t care about our diabetes. My goal is to begin to chip away at that process. I want to get people out exercising so we can slowly begin to change that culture. I believe that when we are successful at changing that culture, many medical providers will begin to look at us — people of color — differently when we come in for our appointments.”
Perry has been working with the two new Juneteenth co-chairs — Ronnicia Johnson-Walker and Jessica Strong — who have replaced long-time organizers Mona Winston and Annie Weatherby.
“Mona and Annie set the bar and look who’s picking it up and running with it … this is the younger generation,” Perry says. “They will move it forward in the future — and that’s what I’m trying to do with the Aaron Perry Fitness Walk so that kids can look up and see their parents and grandparents starting to exercise and walk so they can start adopting that culture in their life. This is how we slowly change the culture.”
Pastor Richard Jones at Mt. Zion Church has thrown his support behind Perry. “He has really been phenomenal… he has opened his doors to me and mentioning and promoting my run/walk,” Perry says. “ He has been mentioning it at church and at functions. I really feel that Pastor Jones saw my vision for what I was trying to make happen and he said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
The event will once again be sponsored by UW-Health and Unity Insurance. Novo Nordisk Pharmaceutical Industries, Inc (NNPII) has emerged as a sponsor this year along with Road ID.
Contestants will get a nice T-shirt, water bottles, bibs with their numbers, and a medal as they cross the finish line. “We want to make it a good, fun day,”
They are doing the normal 3.1 mile run/walk. This year, there will be a one-mile run/walk for those who are just starting out. Perry doesn’t want anybody to be discouraged from coming. Scholarships are available for people facing financial hardships. “I don’t want people to not come out because they can’t afford it,” Perry says. “We cannot ever let that stop a person from pursuing their goal to get healthy.”
The 3rd Annual Aaron Perry Run & Fitness Walk will take place at Penn Park on Saturday June 18, 11 a.m. The event is hosted in conjunction with the 23rd annual Juneteenth Festival. For more information, visit firstname.lastname@example.org.