Moms make no excuses: Local fitness, health group celebrates two-year anniversary

Louis LaVenture,

Maria Kang, who was born in San Francisco and lives in Elk Grove, had no idea what she had gotten herself into when she posted a picture in 2013 of her wearing workout clothes, with her three sons and the caption “What’s your excuse?”

The photo went viral online and eventually led to a ton of support and criticism not only from people online, but also from the media. Many of her critics said Kang was “fat shaming,” and eventually a backlash began with moms listing their excuses for not being in shape.

However, not all of the feedback was negative. Kang already had her own website since 2005, but she decided to start another called “No Excuse Mom” in Dec. 2013 to help moms make physical fitness and healthy eating a lifestyle. Groups can go to the website or social media for workout and diet support, as well as a slew of other resources in order to prioritize their family’s health. The local Hayward-Castro Valley group recently celebrated its two year anniversary and celebrated with a workout at Cannery Park in North Hayward in December, as well as a dinner to commemorate the milestone this past week.

Kang’s presence was felt locally in 2014 when Hayward resident Junette Villarosa met a Northern California regional director for the No Excuse Mom group after she began to look for more workout ideas.

“I just had my son and I gained 40 to 50 pounds during my pregnancy,” Villarosa said.

Villarosa said she gained so much weight after the March 2014 birth of her son that she didn’t recognize herself. By the summer, she was working out regularly and dropped about 20 to 30 pounds. She reached out to a friend to create workout goals and that’s when the local group began to form. Her friend’s wife was a regional director for No Excuse Mom and after some prodding, Villarosa decided to help create a Hayward-Castro Valley chapter of the group.

On Dec. 28, 2014 Villarosa hosted her first workout for the Hayward-Castro Valley chapter that drew roughly more than 20 people. Villarosa was shocked by the turnout and knew she needed help so she reached out to one of the attendees, Lucy Zacarias, who eventually became the co-leader of the group on Jan. 18, 2015. Zacarias said she was unsure to get involved at first because she just started working out, but things changed quickly.

“My cousin saw the group on Facebook and it sounded perfect,” Zacarias said. “I was hesitant because I just started to work out. After the first workout, I went to the car and I knew I was going to be a leader.”

Zacarias cited the camaraderie, support and friendliness as the main reasons she wanted to be involved.

“I saw all these women talking like they knew each other for years but most of them just met,” Zacarias said.

With Villarosa returning to work, the timing was perfect as the two were able to co-lead the group that generally sees anywhere from 10 to 25 people at their workouts. Women are encouraged to bring their children, who are even incorporated into the workouts in some instances.

“The time really has flown by, but it isn’t sad,” Villarosa said. “If anything it makes me really happy because many of these women I have met through [No Excuse Mom] will be friends with for life.”

The group utilizes local parks like Pepsi Park on Hesperian Boulevard, Birchfield Park and Cannery Park, both in North Hayward, to host the workouts.

For the founder, Kang, the group was born after her photo went viral, but weight and health is always something she has struggled with. Kang had an eating disorder that damaged her metabolism and led to her struggle to lose weight. Her mother was overweight and “unhealthy” which eventually led to diabetes and several strokes, something Kang vowed not to perpetuate.

“I had good intentions,” Kang said. “I am a working mom and I just wanted to show others if I can do it, you can do it too. I felt like a huge fighter when I was attacked; bring it on.”

Both Villarosa and Zacarias have multiple children, which were their primary motivation to become involved; not just to make themselves healthy, but to change their whole families lifestyles to prioritize their health.

“The ‘What’s Your Excuse?’ picture really sparked us locally,” Villarosa said. “We want to incorporate a family lifestyle setting, incorporate kids in workouts, establish healthy habits as well as create a bonding experience and support group. Like a big family.”

Villarosa and Zacarias both said the online network has become a huge support system and also a great place to get feedback and guidance for workouts, diets and everything healthy.

The group has evolved and now does things like walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, climb Mission Peak in Fremont and even enter “Spartan Races,” which are obstacle style endurance races hosted around the country and world.

The group is not limited to moms; they also welcome grandmothers, aunts, cousins, sisters and more, but they try to keep it primarily female. A spinoff group for dads, “No Excuse Dad,” was also created recently by Zacarias’s husband, that functions the same way as No Excuse Mom. The group is fairly new and struggled to get members; however, they are in their grassroots period.

Zacarias said the group has transformed her entire family and even her five-year-old daughter has completed two “Spartan Races.”

“We still eat bad and fast food occasionally,” Zacarias said. “But even my kids workout now with my husband and our eating habits have really changed. Lots of brown rice, turkey and chicken, but we’re human, we don’t deny ourselves. That is where the importance of working out comes into play and we are committed as a family.”