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Vital Operation


Michelle Cook always has loved physical activity. When she was a little girl, she would even play aerobics class with her mother’s friends.

But as Cook grew older (and had two kids) she found herself struggling with weight. By the time she hit 250 pounds, it started to impact her health.

“I had hypertension, borderline diabetes. It was terrible,” Cook tells the Inside Track. “I struggled with even trying to get up the stairs. So, I decided I was going to do something about it.”

Cook started eating healthy and working out, taking on trendy workouts such as P90X and Zumba while also doing activities such as hiking. Now 60 pounds lighter, Cook is dedicated to helping others in her Boston community become more physically active, especially by using the greater outdoors.

That dedication lead to the launch of Operation Fit Mom (OFM), an organization that works with groups such as the Boston Public Health Commission and Boston Moves for Health to bring people together to take on physical activity challenges in many of the city’s parks and other public spaces.

OFM currently is partnering with the Franklin Park Coalition to sponsor free family-friendly physical activity opportunities in the 485 acre park, a city landmark designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (who also helped create New York’s Central Park). The coalition offers a number of fitness opportunities through its “Moves for Health” program, which is designed to bring people into the park specifically to exercise by bicycling, hiking, playing tennis, walking or taking part in outdoor exercise classes.

Cook had led several of the program’s physical activity sessions, such as December’s “99 Steps Challenge,” which saw participants climb the park’s famous 99 steps (along with doing some cardio, lunges and squats). She currently is hosting Saturday morning classes in the park called “Organized Chaos,” a conditioning program that Cook hopes will encourage people to stay active outside even during Boston’s frigid winter months.

Cook also works closely with the group Hike 4 Life, which promotes hiking among Boston’s African-American residents. Led by Cook’s fellow Leader Jerel Ferguson, Hike 4 Life sponsors outdoor activities and a number of trips to nearby hiking trails to encourage African Americans to get active outside.

OFM and Hike 4 Life teamed up in the summer for an outdoor event specifically designed to help young people get active, where participants played dodge ball and kickball and enjoyed healthy snacks, and Cook has accompanied the organization on hiking trips.

“We’re trying to get people working out by having fun,” Cook says. “It’s really something I want to do for the community… this is what I love. This is my passion.”

Although her organization is called “Operation Fit Mom,” Cook has worked with a range of different types of people, from young families to senior citizens. Cook says that her own children, now 20 and 17, are proud of the work she has done to lose weight — and help others become more physically active, too.

Cook adds that her personal struggle to stay healthy can inspire those on their own fitness journey.

“It’s definitely a difficult balance,” Cook says. “I make sure I work out as well. I really believe in order to motivate others, they have to see my changes.”

Click here to connect with Michelle Cook.