ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Every Saturday morning before the sun rises, Anthony Lawrence has a standing date with his bike in the Publix parking lot on 54th Avenue South.
“It's one of those things where I never, ever, ever in my life ever thought that I would be out here riding on a bicycle, on a street, with tights on,” Lawrence said with laughter.
Lawrence is part of a small group of African American men who link up every week to take on the streets of St. Pete.
"We call ourselves the crew,” he said.
Dads, teachers, retired firemen, preachers, all people with different titles who have the same cause. And, with each passing pedal, Lawrence gets a new lease on life.
"I bet you I feel better than I did when I was 35 years old, and I'm 50. And, it's hard to say I'm 50."
Lawrence and The Crew ride more than 40 miles every week, starting in south St. Pete, winding through downtown to Weedon Island, and back to their starting point.
"I wasn't riding 40 miles right off the bat. I started out riding two, and was tired as hell riding two,” he said.
Lawrence’s gradual progress is part of a larger journey toward fitness. At one point, he weighed about 350 pounds and was beginning to face health challenges. It was a heavy burden for the Lakewood High School teacher and coach, who like many African American men struggled with obesity. According to a report from Verywell Health, 44 percent of black men are overweight, 24 percent are obese, and 40 percent die early from cardiovascular disease.
"My dad used to always tell me, ‘Boy, you getting too big, you getting too big,’ you know. And I'm like, 'aw dad,’ you know, we were all big guys. I'm like, 'Dad, that's hereditary.' Just messing around with him, but he ended up catching cancer and he passed away."
This forced Lawrence to shift gears, hoping others will, too.
“I started studying what I needed to eat, and the correct nutrition and I've lost about 80 pounds now. And I started being more active and started bike riding and things like that. I saw it worked for me and so I wanted to make sure that I spread that message to as many people as I possibly can,” he said.
Including his other “crew” of students and athletes at Lakewood High School. Lawrence worked with All Children’s Hospital to bring a nutritionist to work with both parents and players to encourage a healthier lifestyle.
“What they also offer is a dietician and a nutritionist, and so what I wanted to do was to be able to present that information to all the parents about how important it is as far as healthy eating for athletes, because a lot of times to get peak performance and really to stay healthy with athletics, you have to eat correctly,” said Lawrence, who’s also taken on growing his own food.
“This is going to be great to promote healthy eating in the African American community,” he said. “I’ve even started gardening, so I have my own garden on my back porch, so I grow my own vegetables and I make sure that all I drink is water, and so it was a progression to get there, but the results have turned out great for me.”
It’s a message he hopes his students and players will grasp and follow.
"You can eat healthy and exercise and have a great, fruitful life without being a slave to medication. I try and spread that message from with the biking crew, with basketball at school, and so it's been working out. Working out well."
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