The Power Walk
By Meda Kessler
Photos by Ralph Lauer
Local GirlTrekkers take steps for themselves and their community
It’s a fiercely cold Saturday morning close to Christmas, and Joyt Gray’s GirlTrek walking group is a little thin in number. “People are on vacation or have family stuff to do, so we’ll be small but mighty this morning.”
Gray is bundled up and has brought extra gloves and hats for anyone who might have forgotten theirs; she also rocks a pair of vintage Gucci sunglasses she bought at Neiman Marcus years ago (she was a sales associate at the Fort Worth store but now works at Expressions Home Gallery). She proudly shows off her Fort Worth Turkey Trot medal for second place in her age group.
Correen Robertson, a civil engineer who is part of the group, gives Gray kudos for her fitness routine. “Joyt’s the fast one,” she says. “And she makes sure we’re all taken care of, too.” Robertson shows us the inspirational phone texts Gray sent out the night before reminding the walkers of the cold weather.
“GirlTrek is all about self-care, which is so important right now, but also it’s about helping other women,” says Gray.
The organization was started in the late ’90s when GirlTrek founders Vanessa Garrison and Morgan Dixon, then college students, met in Los Angeles, became friends and decided to heal their own bodies — and minds — as well as inspire others to do the same.
Statistics show that Black women are predisposed to certain health issues. History tells us that walking has long been intrinsic to community activism, as demonstrated by those who marched in Selma and the many women who have traced Harriet Tubman’s 116-mile Underground Railroad Byway on foot.
GirlTrek gives participants a chance to address both. Gray started this chapter of the walking group three years ago. They meet even when the weather doesn’t cooperate.
“During COVID, it was even more important to get outside and stay active,” she says. “Sometimes we walk 4 miles, sometimes 14.”
Gray and her husband, Gary, have always been active — he still holds a sprint record from his time at the University of Wisconsin — and her father played football at Kansas State. She also is a supporter of the Blue Zones Project, which encourages community-based health initiatives including walking. She and Gary walk together weekday mornings and on Sundays with friends from church. Saturdays give her time with her GirlTrek friends, who also participate as a group in community activities such as last year’s Juneteenth walk to support Fort Worth community activist Opal Lee.
New members are welcome. Trekker Benita Adams, a paralegal, lives in Saginaw, but spotted Gray and her group one weekend at the trailhead outside of Press Cafe thanks to their bright blue T-shirts. She is now a regular.
For this small group of women, who range in age from 47 to 70, the Saturday morning walks include lively conversations about everything and anything while proceeding at a pace that suits all comers.
“We never leave anyone behind. And, when you’re having fun, it never feels like a workout,” says Gray.