Getting fit isn't just for 'Barbie or Ken'

Some people may be intimidated by the idea of working out in public. Maria Lopez, a resident of Alhambra, was one of them. She used to feel anxious about going to the gym, until she started exercising by walking in marathons four years ago. Now she works out regularly, runs and walks in marathons, and has even started a movement—The Pink Turtles—to help women from different fitness levels to form a healthier lifestyle. The Source talked with Maria and her husband Vincent Lopez about their journey in combating obesity with family and friends.

Pink Turtles group photo

What occurred that changed your ideas about fitness?

Maria: I have been always physical but didn’t exercise regularly until four years ago. A girl friend of mine at work told me she went to a half marathon during the weekend. I had been inspired by her and asked her to do another one with me the next weekend. After I did the first half-marathon, I decided to keep it going on.

Another reason that motivates me to do it was that I lost my mother on February in 2011 and I lost my older sister the same year in October to heart disease and diabetes. I was scared because I was overweight. I told myself "Maria, you have to make a change."

Maria with her husband Vincent in 2011

Did you feel intimidated about going to the gym?

Maria: I was nervous because of my weight. Everyone is super fit in some gyms, and I didn't know how to use the machines and what to do. But we can just walk. You don't need to use the machines. I didn’t even want to hire a trainer until I started losing weight through walking. Now I am able to do other things.

Vincent: I felt similar. I went to a gym at Caltech doing weights and treadmills because I work there. But I really didn’t know what I was doing. So I didn’t want to go to gym because it was intimidating.

A more recent photo of Maria and VincentWhy did you and/or other women feel intimidated? What should women do to make a change?

Maria: Women are afraid to go to gyms sometimes, because they don't know what to do. If you look on TV, all the commercials or billboards, they have these thin women or fit men. So everybody has to look like that? My point is not about becoming a model or a Barbie. I am about becoming healthier, because I want to live longer.

A lot of these women who come to me have neither necessary knowledge about exercise nor a network to help them to do it. If it is all by yourself, it could be too easy to say, “I am not going to exercise. I will just stay home and watch TV, just forget it”. Some women haven’t worked out a day in their life. They all share the same feeling. Sometimes you need someone to do it with you, or you won’t do it. Being together, we can do it. It is great to work out in a group setting that includes women and men from different age groups and different fitness levels.

What is Pink Turtles?

Maria: I started inviting a few coworkers and friends to join me four years ago. When I had a team of about 15 ladies of different ages and fitness levels, we decided to have a name with the word "pink" in it. And we all have the same goal, to get fit and start moving, though it doesn't have to be fast. So here is the name: Pink Turtles

We are a buddy system. It’s all about encouraging other women to do it. And it’s a combination of women and men who want to become a healthier individual. We usually gather around Caltech and work out together after work, or join sports events during weekends. My point of Pink Turtles is not about becoming a Barbie or Ken. I also share what I learned from my gym and trainer with members in the group. I tell my group: don’t worry if you trail behind, I will come back and get you. We are not in a race.

Maria with Pink Turtles' members

What distinguishes you and Pink Turtles from other fitness groups?

Maria: The difference is, they can come to me for free. But I do sell T-shirts and charge a few dollars minimum fee to cover expenses for organizing the groups and events. It is more important that they can feel that this is a safe environment and convenient. Eventually I hope it will become profitable. 

Moreover, It basically leans toward female members at this moment. But I want to inspire more males to come and join, and I do have them coming. My husband is a cancer survivor. He never did any walking and running before. Now, he is doing marathons and half-marathons. He has even done the Spartan RaceHe lost 80 pounds during the last four years.

Maria exercises with friends

What are some weight-loss tips that many overlook?

Maria: Healthy eating. Before, I ate pizza, fried food and a lot of Mexican food, which could be fattening. I didn’t cooperate exercise with nutrition. Those two should go hand in hand. That's what I learned. Now everything we eat are protein, vegetable and some fruits. You need to combine everything. It is a lifestyle change. Healthy eating, exercise, good sleep. It is very important.

Besides, exercise is not a competition. When I train myself for a half marathon, I would walk from Caltech to Alhambra. Because a half marathon is 13 miles. That’s a lot. But I am not a runner. I am a walker. You don’t have to compete in a marathon. It doesn’t have to be quick and fast. It is all about moving.

If you are interested in the Pink Turtles, you can visit their website: http://www.thepinkturtles.com/ for more details.

The interview has been condensed and edited.

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