For Ciclovia, the motto for this six-hour exercise-athon could easily come from the lyrics of an old disco favorite: "Get up and do your thing, and don't you be ashamed."
Whether it is walking, running or bicycling, Ciclovia gives people in Medellin and surrounding municipalities the chance to exercise on major roads normally jammed with cars and buses. Ciclovia runs from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Sunday and holiday.
Ciclovia translated from Spanish to English literally means "bicycle lane." But it has become much more than a way for cyclists to exercise. Ciclovia brings all the social and economic classes of the city together in a common goal of physical fitness. It is a familiar sight to see couples or families walking or jogging, not to mention the serious long-distance runner getting in his roadwork. Teens on skateboards are also part of this mosaic of movement. All ages are involved, but many young families look to get out, as well.
"We enjoy coming together as a family and walking," said Marta Delgado, who was with her husband Luis Quintana: their toddler Isabella sat on his shoulders. "This is a really safe environment." The couple-both systems engineers-has been walking three kilometers every Sunday for the last year, when they began their Ciclovia regimen. They walk from Poblado Park to La Frontera and back.
Medellin, Itagui and Bello started their Ciclovias 15 years ago. The program spread to Envigado and Sabaneta two years ago. Today, the Ciclovia of the combined municipalities runs 60 kilometers, traversing almost the entire valley. There are 67 ciclovias throughout Colombia.
Along the route, different exercise classes are also offered.
Alejandra Giraldo, an independent marketing professional, has taken advantage of a rumba exercise class that fitness center Body Tech sponsors from 11:15 a.m. to noon. "I really enjoy the sharing aspect of what ciclovia offers, allowing people the chance to get together outdoors. It gives them the ability to be active in so many different sports," said Giraldo, who has been involved in the rumba class along Mila de Oro for nine years.
According to Jhon Jairo Escobar, who heads Envigado's Ciclovia, more than 100,000 people participate every Sunday throughout the Medellin metro area. "It is great to see families together, walking or riding bicycles," said Escobar, who added that about 10,000 residents from Envigado participate. "The program has been a huge success in getting people outside and exercising at their own pace."
Ciclovia is run by INDER in each municipality. INDER oversees sports and recreation programs in each town and Medellin. Escobar is employed by INDER in Envigado.
Escobar joined as head of Ciclovia one year ago. Previously, he had been a lawyer working for the government for 25 years. He settled on a career change, so he could "live his passion" and help people. The bicycle has become his vehicle to do that.
The passion is evident when talking to him about bicycle programs in various cities around the world. He can recite the number of public bicycles that cities offer in their programs. New York, for instance, has 10,000, he said.
One of the motivators for him is that a healthy lifestyle not only adds to a longer life, but to a more enjoyable one, he said. Diet and exercise-lifestyle-make up 43 percent of a person's health. That percentage is far greater than a person's genetic background, environment and access to healthcare.
That's why Escobar wants to start children riding young. At the INDER office in Envigado, he created a small simulated road system for youngsters to learn road safety and how to ride. The office offers free lessons to children. There are also free tricycles for toddlers to ride in Envigado Park during Ciclovia.
The simulated course also allows handicapped people to learn how to ride bicycles. His work getting handicapped people riding garnered Escobar an award from local journalists. Escobar explained that one man began riding after a stroke. He couldn't do it alone, of course, due to some paralysis. But after working with his staff and continued exercise, he regained most of his mobility.
Envigado has 16 bicycles in Envigado Park that resident can use for free during Ciclovia. There are also 16 bicycles that people can rent there for 8,000 COP per hour, Escobar said.
College students Carolina De La Calle and Stefania Ramirez work for Ciclovia, ensuring that pedestrians stop when cars have the right of way at an intersection. Best of friends, the two said they enjoy seeing people out exercising. But their favorite is when they see families together exercising, particularly when a parent is teaching a youngster how to ride a bike.
On an overcast morning, they said that weather rarely affects the turnout. The two students wore bright orange uniforms that easily identified them as working for Envigado Ciclovia. Their enthusiastic smiles matched the brightness of their outfits. De La Calle and Ramirez are two of the 32 employees from Envigado that ensure the public's safety every Sunday.