Mohamed Kamel at the Fat Boys Run Wix Lounge in New York
The name would seem somewhat misleading, as Mohamed “Moe” Kamel, founder of New York-based social community Fat Boys Run, hardly looks the part. But the longtime running enthusiast wasn’t always so relatively svelte.
“I’m a runner since college--and my weight fluctuates,” says Kamel, who is now 36 and weighs in at “around 225—but I was a 310-pound freshman!”
So late last year the self-described “fat boy” founded Fat Boys Run as an online social community for people struggling with their weight and seeking a casual, non-intimidating environment to make their first step towards a healthier, more active lifestyle.
The group hosts weekly jogs through Central Park, posting its events schedule on Instagram and Facebook. Running is the primary method of exercise, but members are encouraged to stay active in any way they enjoy. By embracing community and exercise as an activity to bring people together, Fat Boys Run has quickly attracted members of varied weights, shapes and sizes in living up to its motto “Start your Day One.”
“That’s the main objective—to start the Day One!” says Kamel. “There’s a very anxious, overwhelming feeling that people get on the first day they start working out or going to the gym. It’s like there’s a wall, and it’s something that’s very intimidating that first day. But when folks are able to have a community of people who lend a hand and lift you over that first day, the next day becomes easier, and then the next.”
So the Fat Boys Run motto is motivational, adds Kamel, who says he’s reached the point where he’s stopped weighing himslf.
“I’m not telling people to get on a scale and completely change their diet,” he notes. “Everything has to be catered to what you’re comfortable with, or else it’s not going to stick.”
Kamel conceived Fat Boys Run last summer while on a Midwest road trip with his brother and two cousins.
“I’d just left a job as a non-profit fundraiser, and the whole time I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life—what I was passionate about. I was always chubby—ever since I was a kid—and whenever I woke up, the first thing I thought about was my weight—and it was the last thing I thought about before I went to bed. My weight was always on my mind, consciously and unconsciously!”
“I’m a runner and a fat boy—and that’s something I’m not ashamed of,” Kamel continues. “That’s the mindset I’m in when I’m thinking about what I’m passionate about and what to do. So it’s something I identified with—and I’m sure others do when they hear ‘Fat Boys Run’ and want them to have the same sentiment I did when I was in that place.”
Fat Boys Run’s first official event was a one-mile Central Park “Run and Fun Social,” featuring a post-run mingle at a local Upper East Side bar. It drew 40 participants and was followed last week by a second event, “That Summer Night Thang,” which gathered 55 people at the Wix Lounge in Chelsea.
“It was purely a social get-together,” says Kamel, “especially for folks with trepidation about running to see others who are involved.”
It was also a means of unveiling Fat Boys Run’s “cool new t-shirts,” says Kamel, one emblazoned with the Fat Boys Run logo, the other with his hashtag ”Pretty Arabs Run.”
“Whenever you see Arabs on the news now, it’s always negative,” explains Kamel, whose parents are Egyptian. “The shirts are a way of showing our identity a bit—and that we can take a joke and be fun.”
With 300 followers both on Facebook and Instagram, Kamel now hopes to increase Fat Boys Run’s reach.
“The one thing that drives me nuts about the name is that it seems like pigeonholing—and that’s not the intention at all,” says Kamel. “It’s just the sentiment I was feeling at the time. I want to make clear that Fat Boys Run is open to everyone, but that the name is personal to me and that I never want to change it to please the masses, because then the message would not be authentic anymore.”
It’s all about “trying to find our identity,” says Kamel.
“We have a running group and blogs and podcasts and videos at our site. I talk about how I’m feeling about life and running every day, but it’s open to the community, and I want the community to push the next step forward with their voices. Fat Boys Run is not just me—and that was never the objective. It’s a community for those who have persistently struggled with their weight, where running is the primary method of exercise--but we want members to stay active in any way they like.”
And as for any conflict in hitting a bar after a run, well, Kamel realizes that “people are going to be people.”
“It’s great that you’re working out, but you also want to have a beer once in a while, or a slice of pizza!” he says. “‘Cheat days’ are necessary—and you might have periods when you’re not exercising. Folks who don’t allow themselves that bit of freedom are the ones who don’t stick with exercise routines for long because they want to get back to their old life.”
“There needs to be co-existence,” concludes Kamel. “I like to say, ‘Do that first day and start feeling better,’ and you start eating better--and then treating other people better. It becomes an interconnected thing. All it takes is starting that very daunting Day One.”
The Fat Boys Run story