A healthy spirituality

Group combines exercise with belief


FITNESS AND FAITH—Local members of Run for God, a nationwide program that combines endurance training and faith, take a break from their workout. The group exercises at Peppertree Park in Newbury Park. Courtesy photot

FITNESS AND FAITH—Local members of Run for God, a nationwide program that combines endurance training and faith, take a break from their workout. The group exercises at Peppertree Park in Newbury Park. Courtesy photot

Monique Reynolds lived a sedentary lifestyle in the year following her breast cancer diagnosis as she underwent chemotherapy and five surgeries, including a double mastectomy.

As the Newbury Park mother of two began to recover from her medical ordeal, she knew she needed to address her general well-being. She liked the idea of a faith-based fitness group, so she joined a local chapter of Run for God, a nationwide program that combines endurance training and faith.

The group convenes once a week at a leader’s house before moving over to Newbury Park’s Peppertree Park to use the track. They then return to the leader’s house for prayers and a Bible-based devotional.

Running is not required; rather, women are invited to move at their own pace. The “couch to 5K” regimen is designed for all fitness levels, so even individuals with no exercise experience can work their way up to a road race.

When Reynolds completed her first 5K after bouncing back from breast cancer—the first 5K of her life—she said it was an important milestone along her road to wellness.

“It was such a neat feeling to think and be able to say ‘I’m healthy again.’ After that, I was hooked. It totally changed my life,” she said.

The local Run for God chapter was started by Cathy Wuesthoff, a running coach at Sports Academy who attends Newbury Park First Christian Church.

The group is affiliated with NPFCC, but its roughly 50 members hail from a variety of local congregations, including The Bridge, Living Oaks, Calvary Community, Ascension Lutheran and Lighthouse. And not every woman belongs to a church.

Wuesthoff said the group is a safe place for women to find support while taking care of the body and the spirit.

“All of our bodies are different and we all have different fitness levels,” she said. “We’re here to support each other.”

Twice a month, many of the same women also meet up for Trails of Prayers, a hike during which participants stop in a shaded spot along the trail to pray collectively for everything from personal needs to local and national civic issues.

“Our relationship with Christ is something we need to work on every day,” Wuesthoff said. “It’s the same with fitness. You need to take that step every day. We take every step for Him.”

The group also participates together in the annual Conejo Open Space Challenge, which encourages locals to explore the Conejo Valley’s lesser-known trails.

Carrie Pennix, dean at Sycamore Canyon School, has run with Wuesthoff since she taught Wuesthoff’s son in kindergarten 19 years ago.

Wuesthoff learned about the faith-based fitness program when Pennix wore a Run for God shirt her mother had sent her from Iowa. When Pennix explained what her mother had participated in, the story inspired Wuesthoff to start her own chapter four years ago.

Pennix was an inaugural member of the local Run for God program. She said there are numerous Bible verses about running, endurance, perseverance and staying on the path.

“I think it’s a great parallel,” she said.

Pennix underwent a hip replacement several years ago, so she walks now more than she runs with the group. She said her participation is about building friendships.

“We bond over our shared experiences. Through the good, the bad and the ugly, we know that we’re there for each other without judgment and we accept each other for who we are,” she said. “I think that’s huge for a lot of people.”

The faith-based fitness group takes a break during the hot summer months but the program will return Sept. 17.

This year, the women’s group will transition into Faithfully Fit, a Gospel-based exercise and nutrition program with devotionals delving into the stories of 12 women in the Bible.

And in the new year, Wuesthoff will relaunch Run for God as a coed program in an effort to help families get fit together.

For details, visit npfcc.org.

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