Community Stories

Escaping the Concrete Jungle

Athens Bike Path offers outdoor experience

Growing up on the east side of Cleveland, I used to fear going outside. Being outdoors meant walking to the car and driving to the grocery store or downtown. An outdoor activity was a simple sporting event held just outside a cul-de-sac, hoping that a parent didn’t go off on a drunken rant yelling at the umpire.

Going to the Cleveland metro park meant potentially running into a drug deal, looming child abductor or random act of violence that was so promptly shown on our newscasts at 7 p.m.

For me, and many others, the outdoors was something that we saw on our TV screens or video games. Every now and then we would play on the street, casually avoiding cars while trying to tackle each other on pavement. Or, we would run around our 15-foot grass patch in the backyard as if we were explorers on the savannah or pioneers on the Great Plains.

According to an article published in Time magazine, spending significant time indoors increases one’s risk of anxiety, insomnia, obesity, diabetes, substance abuse, depression, and other diseases.

In moving to Athens, I quickly saw the benefits of spending more time outside. The Athens community was extremely accepting and helped shed a light to those of us who came from the inner cities.

The coolest part, I was not alone. I discovered there were other students who grew up in large cities and were never able to take the time to appreciate the freedom of the outdoors.

Two of these students who have made Athens their home away from home are Khabonina Beresford and Imani Evans. While they have been used to living in these larger communities, Athens provided a whole new outlook on their lives.

“It was weird. There was a lot of green and trees around, and this was not what I grew up in,” said Beresford, a senior at Ohio University who grew up in Charleston, South Carolina. “I wasn’t allowed to go outside because the neighborhood wasn’t safe. Now I find myself having a complete outdoor escape from all of the noise and danger that I experience when I go home.”

Evans, a peer mentor with the Office of Multicultural Access and Retention at OU, also talked about how she found a new way of life when living in Athens.

“Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago and in the city, Athens seemed very small and unappetizing at first. But, once I got here I found myself not wanting to leave, as if I found my sanctuary.”

Imani Evans

For people coming from the cities, spending time outdoors was something new and exciting that was simultaneously improving our mental state and overall mood.

Dr. Lynette Peck, an adult outpatient therapist at Hopewell Health Center, expressed that students who spend a large amount of time indoors need to adopt more outdoor activities.

“Exercise, physical activity, is regulating—that is, it helps our brains achieve and maintain a state of regulation by releasing bunches of neurochemicals that slow our nervous systems down and make us feel more balanced,” Peck commented. “It reminds us that we are part of something larger, much larger, than ourselves, and this can help us feel less isolated and feed a sense of meaning and purpose, which we need to be healthy.”

Fortunately for students such as myself, Imani, and Khabonina, we now have the opportunity to become more in touch with our environment. This has led to all of us feeling more secure, at peace, and healthier. For now, we are a bunch of city kids who have made the Appalachian Valley our home and escape from the concrete jungle.

“Athens is my home now,” Beresford said. “Whenever I find myself depressed or alone, I have the friends I have made in this community, and the beautiful nature to ground me.”

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