My Black History Month Challenge
Written by Paradigm Athlete Bernard Vivy
Since it’s my first time writing here, let me introduce myself. I am Bernard Vivy, one of the WYN Republic Paradigm athletes. I grew up on the small, but, rich-in-history island of Haiti before I moved to the big city of New York in 2006. Around that time, a good friend convinced me to sign up for something I had no idea existed… The famous 'drum roll please'…a sprint distance triathlon. A what? Huh?
Although I didn't even know which sports were involved in a triathlon, I'm a very curious person, so I figured I'd give it a shot. In hindsight, I can laugh remembering how naive and out of shape I was. But, I did it, and it changed my life.
One particular memory from that race has stuck with me to this day: After muddling through the swim and the bike, I had finally reached the run leg of the race. I was struggling, huffing and puffing. An older gentleman passed me and asked, “What is wrong with you, young man?” I told him how I was taking a beating from this race. His answer stayed with me all these years. He said, “Look, I'm 55 years old and I am running laps around you. Now come on, let’s go.” Who was I to argue? I'm a competitive person by nature and the lesson from a man 30 years my senior still motivates me to this day.
I have since completed triathlons at all distances, including the toughest one-day event around: Ironman. I won’t bore you with the story of every race I have done (although I do have some exciting stories from Ironman Arizona and Ironman Texas I'd love to share one day). It probably seems as though I've been active all my life, but that's far from the truth. Growing up, I was not an especially active or athletic kid and I struggled with my weight. My appetite is the stuff of legends & everyone knew that when Bernard came over for a meal, nothing would go to waste. Now, as an active adult, my appetite is a badge of honor, but as a teenager, I struggled before I found my active lifestyle.
Enough about the past, I really came here to talk about the present. COVID-19 has brought life as we knew it to a halt. The pandemic is also disproportionately affecting Black Americans and communities of color, with higher incidence rates and higher death rates. Stress, underlying health conditions, and lack of access to high quality healthcare all contribute to this disproportionality, but I see movement & activity as a small way we can combat this in our BIPOC communities.
I have been looking at the upheaval caused by this unpredictable disease which even bought sorrow into my own family, including the passing of my cousin’s longtime girlfriend. That devastation is not only death; it’s a wide spectrum of physical symptoms as well as short and long term mental health issues.
Many activities we used to enjoy are no longer available to us, especially in cold climates, where we spend a lot of time indoors. Before the pandemic, I considered myself a gym person. I used to go outside for cycling and running when the weather was amenable, but as soon as the weather turned sour I would venture indoors, even cycling indoors for most of the winter. With the closure of gyms throughout New York City, I was left with one avenue: Exercising outdoors. However, even outdoor exercise was trying: In the city, we lived with constant ambulance sirens and temporary morgues parked on the sidewalks.
But, out of necessity, I got used to long runs and bike rides outside regardless of the temperature. I proudly finished 2020 with 7000 miles of riding and 500 miles of running, a personal best for me.
Although I realized it only in hindsight, physical activity was the one consistent tool helping me cope with what was happening around me. For years, I have struggled with Seasonal Affective mental health issues. After a year of pandemic life, I am confident that my active outdoors lifestyle has helped keep my anxiety at bay, compared to if I was sedentary and cooped up at home. People say to me, “Wow, Bernard, I must have to do something hardcore to feel great like you”. In reality, that’s not the case. Just going for walks outside can be very beneficial for both physical & mental health. I've been trying to incorporate daily wellness walks into my own routine as well. Movement has always been an important part of the human story and beneficial for activating muscles, reducing inflammation, and regulating sugars in your bloodstream.
As we are entering Black History Month in the United States, I challenge anyone who is reading this, especially if you are going through a lot of stress, loss, or sadness to start going for daily walks. If the general guideline of reaching 10,000 steps per day feels out of reach, it’s ok to shoot for less just so long as you are focused on movement. Take breaks and go outside even in the cold for short walks and something magical will happen. Your mood will start changing, I promise.
I hope you will join me in my Black History Month challenge to get outside for a walk every day in February.
For more on COVID 19 & its impact on the mental & physical health of BIPOC communities, check out:
Mental Health America: BIPOC communities and COVID 19