From the couch to a 5K run

Chad Roberts slid his arm into the blood pressure cuff at work and waited for the number to settle on the screen. When it flashed 99 for his resting heart rate, he sat up in disbelief.

"I was scared to death," said Roberts, 33, a manager for a plastics company in Charlotte. "My wife's having a baby, our first. I said, I've got to get myself in shape."

He knew his lifestyle of fat-laden meals and no exercise had finally caught up with him.

So he laced up his sneakers and joined others at Concord's Dorton Park for a fitness program he heard was just starting.

Called The Couch to 5K, the program eases beginners into a regimen that takes them from no running experience to being able to finish a 5-kilometer run.

Tommy Snodgrass, a trainer with Reflex International, an organization that promotes healthy living, runs the free program in conjunction with the city parks.

Each Tuesday and Thursday evening, he watches as more and more people show up to the class and turn into runners after just a few sessions.

"Everybody has a story," said Snodgrass, of the 70 runners who trample the mile-long path that weaves through the park. "The transformation of the people is absolutely amazing," he said.

Karen Comer, 43, stretches with the others under the large pavilion as the sun sets. A stay-at-home mom with four kids, she admits to letting herself go a little. "I went from the 5K to the couch," jokes the former runner.

The program has inspired her to pick up her old habit and sign up for another race after the United Way 5K, the group's goal race Nov. 6.

"I feel like I'm getting stronger," said Comer, who notices she no longer feels out of breath going up stairs like she did before the program.

Snodgrass hopes getting adults active will rub off on their kids too.

"If I can equip the adult and help them change their lifestyle, that will in turn impact their children."

It worked for Roberts, who has lost 22 pounds so far through running and changes in his diet. "I want my son to be impressed by a healthy lifestyle."

Since picking up regular exercise, Roberts now eats better, passing the fast food drive-thru to instead eat a fresh salad with chicken at home.

As the runners meet back at the pavilion, breathing a little harder, their shirts damp from the run, Snodgrass tells them they are on their way to success.

"I want you to get strong, to where you better enjoy your vacations with your kids," he said. "If your little boy or little girl wants to go hiking, you say fine, grab your shoes, let's roll."

The success of the program has been so overwhelming, the city is considering starting it anew whenever other road races are scheduled in the area.

And the program has encouraged both Roberts and Comer to sign up for more races after the United Way 5K.

Roberts isn't expecting to win any races, just finish them.

"I may come in dead last, but at least I'm ahead of the guy on the couch."