By Amy Spencer, Good Housekeeping Magazine
The Gonzalez family is gathered on and around the sectional sofa in their living room. They explain that, in many ways, their clan is like the Brady Bunch. “Except we don’t have a maid!” quips matriarch Rosie. She and her husband, Omar, high-five as the six kids giggle. “We love that show!” the children shout.
Unfortunately, their story is no comedy — when Rosie’s brother died suddenly in 2012, his four youngest children moved into their aunt and uncle’s Los Angeles home. Rosie, 37, and Omar, 39, had two children of their own, Jasmine, now 17, and Omar Jr. (known as Junior), now 9. Nieces and nephews Alyssa, Jimmy III, Deanna and Nathan Hughes, ages 15, 14, 12 and 10 (plus Rosie’s dad, Jimmy Sr., 61) brought the head count to nine.
The other big difference? The Bradys didn’t run together regularly. The Gonzalezes have each pledged to cover over 100 miles — the equivalent of four marathons — this year.
They didn’t start off as a family of athletes. When Jasmine and Junior were small, graphic designer Omar and Rosie, a nurse for assisted-living patients, got caught up in work and parenting and didn’t make time to be active. Then, when the financial market crashed in 2008, Omar lost his job and became depressed. Over 10 years, Rosie gained about 30 pounds, and Omar gained 100. That was when he began running.
By 2009, Omar had found a new job, and running helped him emotionally and physically. “I started with a 5K race. Then I ran a 10K and a half marathon, and I lost over 100 pounds,” he says. Rosie joined him on some of his training runs — sort of. “I would run behind Omar. I struggled a lot because I have asthma,” she says, “but running helped me focus on my breathing pattern. I learned how to breathe differently, through my nose more than my mouth, and eventually no longer had to use my inhaler when I ran.” Over the next couple of years, she lost the 30 pounds she’d put on and found that her energy skyrocketed.
In September 2012, just when life felt as if it was back on track, Rosie’s brother died of a massive heart attack while driving. That very night Rosie and Omar moved their nieces and nephews into their home. “It was second nature,” says Rosie.
The cousins adore one another, but, says Rosie, “it’s been stressful,” with the chaos of bringing six kids to their various activities as well as the financial pressures. “They’re growing and there’s only so much clothing you can hand down,” Rosie says. To increase their earning potential, Rosie went back to school for her RN degree, and Omar began working on a business idea. Running became their thrice-weekly dose of sanity.
Then, in fall 2015, a message popped up on Omar’s Nike running app about Marathon Kids, a program that guides participants to complete four marathons’ worth of miles (with kids!) each season. “My eyes lit up,” says Omar. The kids were so busy with their own interests that the Gonzalezes weren’t exactly a cohesive unit. I thought this would be a way to get all the kids to start running and a great way to do something together,” Omar says.
They signed up with Marathon Kids, but Rosie was nervous at first. “That number, 104.8, sounds like a whole lot of miles!” she says. But they were soon hooked. Several days a week after school, a few of the kids do one or two miles in the neighborhood or take turns on the treadmill in the house. On Tuesday mornings, Rosie takes three of the children on a 1.5-mile course to school. And on weekends, Rosie and Omar take turns leading a run along a hiking trail, on the beach or while touring a cool new spot. When the pack returns, the kids race to the foyer to fill in their taped-up progress sheets (they log up to seven miles per week) with a shared blue marker. “Nathan and Junior and I fight over who gets the marker first!” says Deanna.
The system generates some healthy athletic competition as well. “I beat you running outside,” Rosie teases her nephew Jimmy. “Barely!” he responds. “That was a while ago. It will never happen again!” When the thought of kicking one another’s butts isn’t enough to get them lacing up, they find other motivations. “One day, I said, ‘Who wants to go get ice cream?’ ” says Omar, “and everyone was like, ‘I do!’ I said, ‘Okay … we’re gonna run there.’ ” Two miles later, they celebrated with something cold and creamy.
Generally, though, the built-in benefits of running are reward enough. Omar is at his high school weight now, and Rosie is close to hers. “I gotta run,” says Rosie. “If I’m putting myself first, I can better take care of everyone else.” The kids say the more stress Rosie leaves in the dust, the better off they all are. “She’s more calm,” says Jasmine. “And always on top of things,” adds Deanna. The kids, too, are converts. “It helps me in other sports, like basketball,” says Junior. “I’m more goal-oriented now,” adds Jasmine.
The biggest win? They now function as a team. “I see them motivating each other,” says
Rosie. “When we go for a run and Nathan’s complaining, Alyssa is like, ‘Come on Nathan, you can do it!’ and she’ll slow down to run with him.”
As they’re gathered close, talking and giggling, it’s clear how tight they are. “They’ve had such a hard life. It isn’t fair,” Rosie says, wiping away tears. “I just want them all to be happy.”
And are they? “Yeah,” the kids reply.
“That’s my goal, to keep them happy and moving forward,” says Rosie.
This story originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of Good Housekeeping.