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By The Skanner News | The Skanner News
Published: 12 April 2006

African American women need more exercise — and there's a Boeing engineer who's determined to help them get it.
One day a few years ago, Stephanie LaBoo of Kent and her good friend Cynthia Bell-Brazeal challenged themselves to compete in the Danskin Triathlon. As her mother, Joyce LaBoo, cheered them on, Stephanie got inspired to challenge five other friends to compete, too. They began calling themselves the Soul Sistas, and Stephanie became their informal leader.

This band of women — affiliated with Martin Luther King Memorial Baptist Church in the Renton Highlands — has encouraged many others since then to think more about their health and incorporate exercise into their daily lives. Among other things, they participate in the "Race for the Cure" and the Seattle and Portland marathons.

Many of the women live in the South End, but others hail from all corners of King County. They believe all it takes is faith the size of mustard seed to achieve any goal.

The group varies in size from 12 to 20, and ages range from the early 20s to over 60. This year the Sistas have a particularly large turnout, in part because many of them plan to do the 185-mile Seattle to Portland — the STP bike ride on July 15 and 16. And they're looking for other women to come along.

"I've always been physically active, and I enjoy encouraging others to get their bodies moving," said Stephanie LaBoo, 32, a chemical engineer at the Boeing commercial division plant in Kent. "I believe you don't have to be fit to work out — you work out to be fit!"

Six LaBoos — Stephanie, her sister Jacina and their mother Joyce, their grandmother and aunt from New York and an aunt from California — also will gather in Seattle in August to do the Danskin Triathlon.

The Soul Sistas have a regular workout schedule on Saturday mornings, and the meeting place changes each month. In April, the group is meeting at 8 a.m. at the Renton Community Center on Maple Valley Highway. These workouts focus on biking and run/walks. The women divide into groups based on distance and pace — some riders want to do eight to 10 miles, while others aim for 40 to 50 miles. The Sistas also encourage pairing up to exercise together during the week.

The group is getting training advice and assistance from two Seattle volunteers, African American physicians Rayburn Lewis, M.D. and John Vassall, M.D.

"John and I did the STP last year and noticed there were almost no women of color on the ride," said Lewis, vice president for medical affairs at Swedish Medical Center. "We thought we needed to establish a group, then we were fortunate to discover that the Soul Sistas had been training for some time. They are a resilient and determined group of women, and we are pleased to be a part of their support team."

For more information about the Soul Sistas, call Stephanie LaBoo, 206-715-7249, or e-mail soulsistas@mail.com.

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