Perhaps the name is no longer technically accurate, at least as far as most of its members are concerned.

But calling the Overweight Hikers for Health Meetup group is still a great way to telegraph newcomers exactly what it’s all about: a sociable hike in the outdoors, with a laid-back approach aimed more at having fun than madly roaming the trails. kilometers traveled.

Also, this name and the band it describes were born out of the weight wrestling experience of Richard Cumelis, who founded OHH in July 2013.

Cumelis had retired from the US Air Force about five years earlier after 25 years of service and was, he now admits, suffering from “horrible depression”.

“I had a lot of success in the Air Force,” he says. “The world outside the military was difficult for me.”

He eventually gained over 100 pounds. “The doctor told me I would be dead in a year,” he says.

Cumelis started looking for a way to fit more physical activity into his life. He has always enjoyed hiking but was not comfortable going it alone, fearing what would happen if he suffered a medical episode or had an accident on the trail. He also feared the embarrassment of slowing down physically fit hikers in other hiking groups because he was out of shape.

“If I walked 100 yards, I was out of breath,” says Cumelis.

“It just grew and grew”

His therapist suggested that Cumelis start a group for hikers like him – average newcomers, perhaps in poor physical shape, who might enjoy hiking but wouldn’t feel comfortable joining more advanced hiking groups. . He thought the group members could support each other and maybe even motivate each other to start on the path to a more active lifestyle.

Four people showed up in August 2013 for the first hike of what Cumelis called Overweight Hikers for Health. “Then it just grew and grew and became its own thing,” he says.

OHH now has nearly 5,000 people registered on Meetup and about 300 active members, Cumelis says. The group hosts chef-led hikes — usually two to four a week — in local hiking hotspots, including Red Rock Canyon, Mount Charleston and Lake Mead. He also arranges hiking and camping trips outside of Las Vegas to destinations like Zion National Park in Utah, as well as occasional camping trips.

Hikes range from relatively easy walks of a mile or two to more challenging jaunts. And while some members join to lose weight, others simply enjoy the welcoming vibe of the group and the laid-back pace of the rides.

The goal isn’t to force people’s diets and health, Cumelis says, but to welcome members wherever they are on their fitness journey.

That “overweight” descriptor in the name is “meant to be non-intimidating,” says Cumelis. Most members aren’t even necessarily overweight, he adds, and include, for example, people recovering from injuries or surgeries.

Shared love of the outdoors

If there’s a common denominator, it’s that members enjoy spending time outdoors with social people. Cumelis estimates that at least three marriages have taken place within the band and many friendships have been formed.

Vern Quever joined about four years ago and has been a trail leader for just over two years. He was drawn there in part by the group’s camping trips.

“I’ve done a few camping trips, but not as many as I’d like,” he says.

Quever has also been a leader for rides from other organizations and has noticed that OHH rides tend to attract a more physically diverse crowd.

“Sometimes we’ll have slower people, which can be a bit tricky,” he says. “I’ll wait. Sometimes slower people feel bad about waiting. I’ll tell them I like to wait.

“It’s so welcoming”

Elsa Olson has loved hiking ever since she went on organized hikes while in college in California. But after school, through marriage, and while she was raising her kids, hiking became “a missing part of my life.”

After her divorce in 2017, Olson searched online for a hiking group led by a leader — “I didn’t want to get lost in the woods,” she says — and found OHH.

His children were then 15 and 18 years old. “I reached out and asked Richard if my son and daughter could come and he said, ‘Sure, as long as they can keep up,'” she said.

“It’s so welcoming to have different levels of hiking ability,” says Olson. “Hike leaders have radios and supervise each hike, keeping an eye out for slower walkers.”

Olson also credits OHH with helping his children develop a love of the outdoors. They are now in their twenties, she says, and hiking with the group “helped them discover that in the valley you can hike all year round”.

Cumelis says OHH serves as a way to introduce newcomers to hiking and the outdoors. It can also serve as an introduction to healthy activity.

Overcoming the Intimidation Factor

Dr. Gaurav Zirath, a family physician at Southwest Medical, says hiking could be one way to contribute to the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week for adults.

In addition to the physical benefits hiking is said to provide, research has shown that physical activity “decreases the risk of anxiety and depression and improves mental health, and walking is a great way to do this,” says -he.

Hiking in a group can also provide motivation to start and continue an activity, Zirath says. It may also help reduce the intimidation some people feel when starting a physical activity program.

“Once you break down that barrier of bullying, people tend to do better, and they have a better chance (of maintaining it) for a longer period of time,” Zirath says. “And the social interaction certainly helps.”

Even though the name Overweight Hikers for Health isn’t quite accurate, Olson thinks it works great.

“I think what our name does is make it less threatening to people who join us,” she says. “If you’ve never done it before and people are eager to do it the first time… saying ‘overweight’ makes it less threatening.”