Katie Banks grimaced as she pushed up and down against the padded gymnasium wall at Streets Ministries-North in the Grahamwood community. After a few minutes into the workout, she'd worked up a little sweat.
"I'm glad I got some Advil in my purse," she said.
The expression on Veronica Mitchell's face was just as telling after stretching her upper body, jogging across the floor, and shuffling from side to side to keep her legs and hips from stiffening. A few minutes into the workout, she called out a familiar name to give her strength.
Mario Myles, a fitness trainer with Memphis-based BIOMechaniks, heard Banks and Mitchell's outcry.
"You guys are working hard. Don't stop. You'll feel a lot better if you don't stop," he assured them during an upbeat workout on March 23.
Banks and Mitchell are among more than 700 individuals from 47 churches competing to lose weight in the second annual Healthy Church Challenge 100-day weight loss competition.
"I need to get in shape and lose weight before I get my second hip replacement," said Mitchell, a member of Mt. Olive CME Church.
"The doctor wants me to lose 30-40 pounds," she said. "He's already done my left hip replacement. Now he needs to do the right hip. I was going to start something on my own, but this is a good starting point."
Presented by BlueCross® BlueShield® of Tennessee, the Challenge is designed to address health problems through area faith-based organizations and create a healthier place to live, work and play in Memphis, Shelby County and West Tennessee.
The winning teams of the Challenge will receive prizes that will benefit their churches and health ministries. The grand prize is a $5,000 certificate for fitness equipment and nutritional counseling. There will also be an individual prize awarded to the person who loses the most weight overall.
Banks is concerned about her blood pressure. Although winning a prize would be nice after losing the weight, she said nevertheless, "I know if I start working out, my blood pressure will go down and I won't have to start taking medication."
Myles said most people like Banks and Mitchell – if they work out at all – are accustomed only to linear movements rather than lateral. "Women in particular need a range of motion when they get older," he said.
The hour and a half workout was based on three planes that the body uses for movement: sagittal (vertical), transverse (horizontal), and frontal (side to side).
"Working in all three helps with the hip's range of motion and balance," Myles said.
"My goal is to lose at least 20 pounds," said Mitchell. "But if not, I'll keep going."
Melvin Elliott limped slightly during the workout, but kept the pace nonetheless. He has a bum knee that's giving him problems.
"My exercising has nothing to do with weight," said Elliott, 66, a member of Brown Baptist Missionary Baptist Church. "I have a bum knee. I guess it has something to do with old age."
While the adults were working out in the gymnasium, the children of some of the participants were working out in a small room during a special youth workshop presented by the City of Memphis.
"I decided to work out because of my weight," said Terrika Banks, the 13-year-old daughter of Katie Banks. A 7th-grader at Highland Oaks Middle School, Terrika said she needs to lose the weight.
Terrika is not alone in her struggle to lose weight. According to the Children's Health Crisis, which launched a series of seven documentaries in 2009 on the state of children's health in Tennessee, 20.6 percent of children in the state were obese. It was the sixth highest rate in the nation and now rising to epidemic proportions.
"The city has a vested interest in families being healthy," said Nika Jackson, manager, Office of Community Affairs, Division of Parks and Neighborhoods. "We want families to eat healthy and get out and get moving."
The children were also challenged by Amanda Wittenberg to make better food choices to avoid becoming obese as adults.
"About 90 percent of overweight children will become overweight as adults," said Wittenberg, a senior at the University of Memphis studying to become a dietitian. "If we can stop the trend now, they'd more likely be healthy as adults."
The city of Memphis is a community partner with the Let's Move! initiative that First Lady Michelle Obama launched in 2010. Let's Move! also uses MyPlate, the new USDA regulated portion allotment replacing the food pyramid, to combat obesity.
"We always look for ways to partner with organizations such as the Healthy Church Challenge," Jackson said.
(For more information on the Healthy Church Challenge, call 901-278-0881 or visit Facebook.com/TheHealthyChurchChallenge.)
(Wiley Henry is with The Carter Malone Group.)