Black women are facing a health crisis in the United States. They are dying earlier at higher rates from preventable diseases like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes than any other group of women in America.
Vanika Mock knows this very well and that is why she is a woman inspired — and she's looking to pass that inspiration along to other women. As many as she can.
“I see a lot of black women who are not active [and] have issues with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol — this is a recipe for disaster. This will be an early death for a lot of these women. One thing that got me to thinking about all of this was on Mother's Day when I'm reading everybody's Facebook posts and they're talking about how their moms died. These were relatively young women! It broke my heart. And it was always something like heart disease or high blood pressure or stroke.
“I said to myself that even though I'm healthy and I walk every day and I work out seven days a week, there's always more that I can do,” she continues. “And I want to help as many women as possible understand how important their health is. I want us to live in a healthy community and it all starts with us. One person can tell someone else who will tell someone else and it will reverberate throughout the community.”
After a very competitive process, Mock was recently selected as a Midwest Representative to spread GirlTrek's message and promotion of healthy lifestyles for women. GirlTrek is a national nonprofit and health organization that inspires and supports Black women and girls to live their healthiest, most fulfilled lives — simply by walking. Their mission is to rally one million people to join them by 2015.
The whole process to become a GirlTrek midwest representative took about two months. She had an application of 30-some questions — many of them long essay questions.
“After that I had to read a ton of materials, and then had an interview on Google Hangout,” Mock remembers. “Once I passed through this I was invited to interview in Tarrytown, New York where there were many more mini-interviews.”
Representatives were advanced through a very competitive selection process. This included a three-part interview and in-depth leadership training at Tarrytown House Estate and Conference Center in Tarrytown, N.Y., and the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. It was an incredible experience for Mock who was with 25 ladies from across the country in a huge mansion in upstate New York.
“These women came from Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, Louisiana, Tennessee — they came from all over,” Mock says. “The last interview took place last week at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. We had to do a 60-second elevator pitch on what GirlTrek is all about. That was the hardest part for me because I'm so passionate about it. I'm so passionate about helping women to get healthier. Once I start talking, I feel like I could talk for hours about it — especially talking about black women — 80 percent of black women in America are obese. It's a huge problem.”
Today, through grassroots organizing and award-winning social media campaigns, GirlTrek supports over 15,000 walkers, 300 volunteers and inspires an ever-growing network of 145,000 supporters. Grounded in civil rights history and principles, GirlTrek's health movement relies on inspirational stories, street organizers, authentic partnerships, smart advocacy and a whole lot of hustle
“The thing that is interesting about GirlTrek is that while most organizations want you to work out and run, this grassroots, nonprofit organization is talking about walking — 30 minutes a day five days a week,” Mock says. “Who can't do that? That's so important. And if you walk 30 minutes a day five days a week, your health gradually improves and you will be in a better spot in life.”
Mock speaks entirely from experience. Two years ago at her 40th birthday, Mock was about 40 pounds overweight.
“I didn't realize it until a dress I had on I couldn't even zip it up,” she remembers. “And it was one of the biggest sizes that I ever had! It was embarrassing for me because I looked horrible. But nobody told me that I looked bad. They would always compliment the good things and never mention the bad things. But the bad thing was that I was obese. I couldn't walk up a flight of stairs. I wasn't feeling good about myself. It was a miserable existence.”
Mock started walking that very day and begin to document every walk she took. “Every time I walked, I got better and better at it and went a little bit further,” says Mock, who recently competed in and finished the 13.1 miles of the Capital Challenge in downtown Madison. “There would be days when I walked for five or six hours. It was a good opportunity for me to clear my head and de-stress.”
This year, Mock's sister lost over 100 pounds by walking and changing her eating habits. “She was really obese and she had no idea how to make that change,” Mock says. “Even though I tried to help her, until someone wants to really help themselves, you can't force it upon them. On her own, she started walking and then started walking more. Now, she's lost 100 pounds. She feels great. She looks great. She has energy.”
As GirlTrek’s Midwest Representative, Mock is working to mobilize walking events and teams during her two-year term of voluntary service. “My job is to get people motivated and exicted,” Mock says. “My job is to let people know how important this is and why it's so important. We have a serious epidemic on our hands and if we don't start walking now .... when dow we do it? When do we start?
“Anybody can do this. It's not hard. It's so simple. Anybody can walk. Walking is the easiest thing you can do. You don't have to walk 10 miles — you can walk one mile or two miles,” she continues. “And when you're walking and talking with friends, you don't even realize that you are walking. It goes by so fast.”
Interested in meeting and interacting with new women, having fun, and getting healthier? The next official walk for GirlTrek-Madison will be June 30, 3 p.m at Olin Turnville Park on Lakeside Drive.
For more information about GirlTrek, walking, or women's health in general, e-mail VanikaMock@hotmail.com.