In 2003, shortly before her 35th birthday, Michelle Grady competed in her first-ever triathlon.
“When I crossed the finish line I just burst into tears, I was so overwhelmed with what I felt,” says Grady, a software engineer from Charlotte, North Carolina. “I just wanted other women to experience that.”
Nearly two years after crossing the finish line, Grady issued a challenge to her closest friends and family through a poignant email. “Lately, I have been thinking about things that we can do as Black women to challenge ourselves,” begins Grady’s email, citing “more often than not, Black women neglect their health.”
What begins as a heartfelt letter evolves into a provocative call to action. Acknowledging the daily demands, barriers and excuses to being physically active, she calls on her girlfriends for support and motivation.
“Are you: Realizing Your Potential Everyday?” writes Grady. “Lets get RYPE together. Positive energy is contagious.”
This was the beginning of RYPE (Realizing Your Potential Everyday), an ever-expanding network of women connected through Grady’s monthly musings, training tips and petitions to get fit.
“Looking around my circle of friends and family, [I am] seeing a lot of aunts, mothers, friends who are overweight and talking about how unhappy they are,” says Grady. “This is all about creating a network of education, support and inspiration for Black women on their road to a healthy lifestyle.”
RYPE uses destination events throughout the year to offer specific goals to work towards. Its first challenge took place in the Caribbean, where 10 women met to compete in Jake’s Off-Road Triathlon. But according to Grady, it’s also about finding small, achievable ways of being active in daily life, like taking the steps instead of the elevator at the office.
Since Grady began penning emails and orchestrating endurance events, RYPE has swelled from a handful of close friends to a nationwide network of more than 125 women.
Grady’s emails are confiding, prescriptive and unflaggingly energetic. You can almost picture her standing over your shoulder, pumping her fist and cheering your name to get moving and see what’s possible. There’s also an intimacy that lets women know they can lean on RYPE women—many of whom they’ve never met—to stay motivated and engaged.
“People don’t like working out by themselves,” says Grady. “You don’t know how much money I’ve wasted on gym memberships. I go join the gym, I go for a week and that’s it. I know I’m not the only one.”
Part of Grady’s larger vision is to attract more Black women to endurance events, creating RYPE chapters across the nation that offer “local support and training,” and introduce the sport of triathlons to African American girls.
“When I did my first triathlon, it was very discouraging to look around as the only Black woman in a field of 400 participants,” Grady says. “I just think it would be awesome in these endurance events to see a sea of Black women to cross the finish line.”
Black Women's Health Imperative
Formerly the National Black Women's Health Project, the imperative provides wellness education and services, and self-help group development.
Heart & Soul Healthy Weight Plan
This effort, launched by Heart and Soul magazine, works to foster a healthy living movement within the African American community.
The following are historically African American women’s organizations, each with distinct efforts to promote health, physical wellness and/or obesity prevention:
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
National Council of Negro Women