HARLEM — Two years ago Lawrence Washington couldn't run a mile.
He weighed more than 300 pounds, had high blood pressure, diabetes, heart palpitations and anxiety.
This Father’s Day, he's planning to complete a mile jog around Marcus Garvey Park with his 11-year-old triplets.
“Just being able to show them that they can be active is huge for me,” Washington said. “They saw me as that almost 350-pound person standing outside of the building smoking a cigarette. Through these last two years they’ve seen the evolution and change.”
Washington began his transformation after having gastric sleeve surgery in May 2013. Once he recovered from the operation he started running in Harlem, first alone and then with a group called Harlem Run. Soon after, his entire family became more active, he said.
“The type of things that I [used to] do was movie night or game day. We would go out but it would be go out to eat. They weren’t active, I didn’t take them to the park or any of that kind of stuff,” he said.
Now they play basketball on the weekends and follow their dad on bikes while he's running, he said.
And in the past two years, Washington has completed three half marathons, and now weighs 225 pounds. The 1-mile race in Marcus Garvey Park Sunday morning is special not because of its length but because of the community around it, he said.
“To be able to have an event that the people of the community are going to be there and see us, I believe that we get to be an example,” Washington said.
Having a supportive community has been more important to staying active, Washington said. Although he ran alone before joining the running group, it was Harlem Run that played a big role in keeping him focused and motivated to change his lifestyle, he said.
“That was the first time I had run with other people,” he said. “It really changed my idea about it because it wasn’t just me anymore. There’s moments when I’m running when I’m making deals with myself like, 'all right I’m going to run a few miles and then walk for a bit.' When you are running with people they won’t let you do that.”
The group meets every Monday to run around Harlem and often compete in events around the city together. Washington's children also tag along to some of the events, he said.
Harlem Run, which launched in November 2013, is the brainchild of Alison Desir, an avid runner who was tired of exercising alone in the neighborhood.
"My mother is coming from Virginia," he said. "I'm going to be running with the triplets and my wife is going to volunteer with our youngest."
The mile run will precede the annual Father's Day Bike Race in Marcus Garvey Park on June 21. It will start at 9:30 a.m.