** This article originally appeared in The Austin Post on February 14, 2013 **
It’s a sunny Sunday evening and the RunTex on Riverside Drive is packed with people. The store’s cat, Asics, rubs attendees’ legs while they eat a dinner of salad and pizza. The meeting is the 2013 “recommitment to fitness” kickoff of RunTex’s ATX100, ATX50 and ATX20 groups, which help participants lose 100, 50 or 20 pounds. Pat Bancroft is part of the ATX100 Club and has already lost 50 pounds. She joined the group when it first launched in September 2011 after seeing an article posted about it on Facebook.
“I wasn’t feeling well at the time, and couldn’t take my dogs on walks or fit into my clothes,” she says. “I was motivated to change and this group seemed like the perfect way to do it.”
ATX100 meets for workouts three days per week, which are tailored to the body types and unique fitness goals of participants. Bancroft covered 12 miles on Saturday and says, “All of us are in the same boat here so our workouts are designed for bigger people rather than the skinnies at gyms. The great thing about this group is that there’s no judgement.”
They have a private Facebook group, which holds members accountable for showing up to workouts and provides a supportive way to stay motivated. For the $100 annual fee, participants receive personalized coaching and a 15 percent discount to My Fit Foods whose founder, Mario Mendias, says that weight is due 20 percent to exercise and 80 percent to what is eaten. ATX100 doesn’t culminate in one race like some fitness programs do. Instead, they participate in smaller races during the year to stay on track.
Improved health – rather than weight loss – is the group’s primary focus, so there are no weigh-ins. The pounds do come off, though.
“Losing weight is a side effect of getting healthier,” says James Russell, executive director of the RunTex Foundation and coach of ATX100. “It doesn’t matter what your fitness goals are – we’re here to help you achieve them.”
At The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on South Lamar, there’s a picture of Bancroft with her dog when she was 70 pounds heavier. It’s a good reminder of how far she’s come, and what she still wants to achieve. Bancroft had hoped to be 30 pounds less when she completes the Austin Half Marathon on Feb. 17, if only for the sake of her knees. Still, she’s amazed to be so close to completing a distance that was unimaginable to her just a few years ago.
“After I finished the 2012 Capitol 10K and thought I was going to die, I went home and was one of the first 1,000 people to sign up for the Austin Half Marathon,” she says. “Then I sat down and cried.”
Bancroft’s motivation to finish the half marathon isn’t just physical. Seven years ago she adopted her beloved Rottweiler mix, Ruby, from Blue Dog Rescue. She became an active foster and volunteer for the group, which is a member of 26 Miles for 26 Charities, the philanthropy program of the LIVESTRONG® Austin Marathon and Half Marathon®. The program “provides Central Texas non-profits with the opportunity to advance community awareness while raising money to support their mission”.
Blue Dog has 20 runners fundraising for the Austin Marathon and Half Marathon, and will host the mile-15 water stop. Bancroft has raised $1,900 so far. Despite putting on numerous events during the year such as Perros de Mayo and Run for the Rovers, the marathon remains their biggest fundraiser.
Bancroft recounts the names and hard luck tales of some of the eight dogs she’s fostered for Blue Dog. She shows a picture of an emaciated brown dog named Leesa Ray who had just given birth and had a horrible lung infection when Bancroft brought her home. Leesa Ray coughed so intensely during her first night that Bancroft thought she would die, so she went and lay on the floor with her.
“It breaks my heart to think of what that dog went through before she came to Blue Dog,” Bancroft says. “It truly took a village to get her healthy and ready for a home.”
After 13 months of healing foster care with Bancroft, Leesa Ray was adopted by a family that still sends pictures of her.
When Bancroft crosses the finish line on Feb. 17, it will mean more than a medal. It will mean life. A healthier life for herself, and providing a happy new life for dogs like Leesa Ray.