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Teacher to run 190 miles to fight obesity

A Miami Lakes physical education teacher will run more than 150 miles in an effort to raise awareness of childhood obesity.

By Rodolfo Roman
Special to The Miami Herald
Miami Lakes resident Alexis Garcia is not afraid of pushing his body to go the distance.

In 1992, Garcia, 49, hit the Florida straits to escape his homeland of Cuba for political and economic reasons on a Tandem kayak, rowing for 55 hours with little sleep. He also traveled with a friend, Ernesto Valladares.

Both men were later rescued near the Bahamas by Brothers to the Rescue and brought to the United States.

But, Garcia, an avid runner, will have another test: He will attempt to run 190 miles from Key Biscayne to Key West at the Ragnar Relay Series race on Jan. 7 and 8 in an effort to raise awareness of childhood obesity. The most Garcia has run is 100 miles.

“The children will be my motivation. They will see that nothing is impossible,” he said in a phone interview. “You just need to put your mind into it.”

Garcia, a physical education teacher at Miami Lakes K-8 Center, is raising funds with the help of the Town of Miami Lakes to promote the cause. Miami Lakes is collecting donations from the public to match every mile he runs. On race day, he will take off from Key Biscayne’s Crandon Park and will finish at Key West. For the most part, teams of 12 men will participate, but individuals could also compete. More than 200 teams are expected to run.

His wife, Marlene Garcia, who also is a runner, said her husband is an inspiration to the youth.

“He uses his running to educate,” she said in a phone interview. “He is leading by example doing something that is healthy. It shows the kids that there is more out there than just video games.”

But the race is just one way of helping the cause. In September, the Garcias founded the non-profit organization Just Run Miami Lakes, which is a chapter of the national non-profit organization Just Run. So far, there are about 75 local children ages between 5 to 15 years old. The program introduces educational methods for children to practice a healthier way of living through nutrition and proper exercise. The money raised by Alexis will help the Miami Lakes program.

To prepare, Alexis has been training in North Carolina and has received tips from running trainer Ray Zahab, who appeared in the film Running the Sahara. Zahab communicates with Garcia via telephone and e-mail noting his training regimen for the race. Runner Charlie Engle also advises him.

“He is a shinning example using his athletic ability to do something that is important to him and everyone like health for youth,” said Zahab, who lives in Canada, in a phone interview. “He is a hero. It’s so exciting to see someone do something so compelling.”

Alexis said that because of technology, children are spending too much time indoors and not exercising properly.

“There has to be a balance between what they do at home and the regular exercise they need,” he said. “This generation needs to do something outdoors and something needs to be done.”

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