A group of new mothers and mothers of newborns works out with Stroller Strides.

by Lou Mancinelli

When the economy stalled in 2008, it was for a local woman both the mechanism that blocked her entrance into the field she longed to enter since she was a kid and a motivation for her to start her own business.

It is a business she hopes will bring together pre- and post-natal moms as well as create a community while at the same time providing the impetus for exercise.

Stroller Strides Chestnut Hill/Plymouth Meeting is a workout group designed for pregnant moms and moms of newborns that incorporates babies in their strollers. It will celebrate its Chestnut Hill grand opening Tuesday, May 7, on the river trail in Valley Green at Northwestern Avenue and Forbidden Drive outside the Cedars House Cafe from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The program gathers moms in groups and gets them running while pushing their babies in strollers sturdy enough to keep going. During the running every so often there will be a pause. Then it’s time perhaps for jumping jacks or triceps curls with a resistance band. Then it’s back on the run again, then more calisthenics. Repeat.

“I think this is a challenge all moms face,” said Jacqueline Walsh, 28, a Mt. Airy resident who will launch the program and run it with her daughter, Lyla, who turned one year old this month. “How can these women, how can I, maintain physical fitness when we have these babies we can’t take to gym daycare or don’t want to take to gym day care?”

Walsh has been physically active all her life. She competed in gymnastics through high school and continued a workout regimen through college and afterwards. She was fit enough to pass the FBI physical screening tests she faced during its long hiring process, but more on that later. When Walsh had her baby, her ability to stay fit, a top priority for her, was challenged.

“I didn’t have any options,” said Walsh. She moved to Mt. Airy with her husband last summer. Walsh was raised in Tempe, AZ. She moved to the east coast a few years earlier to attend law school at Villanova, which she completed in 2009. That is where she met her husband, Kevin, who now practices as a corporate lawyer. He is from Ohio.

So if Walsh wanted to go running or to the gym, there was no family around to help her watch her baby. Besides that, a complication during birth had prohibited her from exercising for a short while. Compound that with being so new in the neighborhood, and Walsh wondered what her options were. She learned about Stroller Strides and attended a few classes in Center City.

“I was like ‘This is it,’” said Walsh. It was a great way to meet other moms while exercising. She took her first classes in August. But she knew the morning drive downtown would frustrate her ability to attend class. She looked online and found Stroller Strides, a franchise. She wondered whether the program would work in Northwest Philly. There were certainly enough new mothers, it seemed.

“Do you think I could do this?” she asked her husband.

It happened fast. One thing led to the next, and come October she was participating in the program’s application and fitness certification process. She launched the Plymouth Meeting arm of her Stroller Strides program in February. The Stroller Strides program is one of many under the umbrella company that recently changed its name to Fit4Mom.

Originally Walsh’s career plan was to become an FBI agent or an attorney. She was two years into the FBI hiring process, beginning in 2009, when the agency instituted a hiring freeze caused by the faltering economy.

It had also been that stumbling economy that aggravated Walsh’s search for an attorney position in the Philadelphia metro area. She was an Arizona State University psychology graduate with a master’s degree in health administration from the University of Phoenix in Phoenix, and she passed the Pa. state bar exam in 2009 but could not find a paid position as an attorney. (She does do pro bono legal work and was named to the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania 2010 Pro Bono Roll of Honor.)

Regarding Stroller Strides, the benefits for exercise during and after pregnancy are well documented. Exercise during pregnancy can ease or prevent back pain and other discomforts, according to the Mayo Clinic. It can boost energy, prevent excess weight gain, reduce the risk of gestational diabetes, pregnancy-related high blood pressure and postpartum depression.

“I haven’t had a mom in my class who felt like she was in shape,” said Walsh.

For more information, visit Stroller Strides on Facebook, or at Jcwalsh@Fit4Mom.com or chhillplymeet.fit4mom.com.