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Las Vegas hiking group outgrows its ‘overweight’ moniker

Overweight Hikers for Health started in 2013 as a group for people who identified as overweight, and it has grown to more than 2,300 members.

“The concept is for people who are too embarrassed to get out because they don’t think they can keep up with other (hiking groups),” founder Richard Cumelis of Summerlin said. “It’s for them to still have a life. (But) it’s really not just overweight hikers anymore. We tend to attract a crowd who wants to go at a slower pace, socialize and take lots of pictures. There’s a lot of talking and fellowship.”

Members include hikers in their 70s, people recovering from an injury or surgery and children who come with their parents or grandparents.

Cumelis retired after 25 years in the Air Force and starting gaining weight, he said. He started OHH in 2013, about five years after retirement. He hiked with his dog but was physically unable to go more than a few hundred yards, he said.

“I was nervous if I had a heart attack that I would be alone,” he said. “(And) I knew the other groups were too fast. I knew I couldn’t keep up with them.”

Someone suggested to Cumelis that he start a group to get others involved and to make himself feel safer. He called it OHH.

OHH meets at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Mount Charleston, Lake Mead, Floyd Lamb Park at Tule Springs and Clark County Wetlands Park. There are about seven members, including Cumelis, who lead hikes of various levels. Groups also have gone on hikes in Pahrump, Arizona and Zion National Park in Utah. Hikes are organized on Meetup.com.

Jennifer Spangler of North Las Vegas is one of the leaders who mostly holds events in the Henderson area. She joined the group about three years ago as a New Year’s resolution after one of her friends found the group on Meetup, she said. Spangler had become interested in hiking after moving to Las Vegas from Victorville, California, in 2007.

Her fiance died from cancer a few years prior, which made her feel depressed and isolated, she said. She joined OHH because she didn’t want to hike alone anymore. She met a member who had lost her husband to cancer.

“I like to explore, but I don’t want to go by myself and get lost,” she said. “With the group, I can explore and make new friends with people who like doing the same things I do.”

She’s done 280 events and has been a leader since 2015.

She usually hosts hikes Sundays at Wetlands Park or the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve.

Spangler’s hiking group is great for new hikers of all ages, Cumelis said. Spangler said she prepares the slower-paced hikes because it allows her to take breaks without anyone getting left behind and allows for lots of photos.

“I feel like people should be able to push their own limits,” she said. “If they feel like they’re done, then that’s fine. You’re out here trying, and that’s fine.”

OHH leader Ronni Tomlinson of Summerlin does more advanced hikes of 4-6 miles and sometimes require scrabbling. She joined the group in 2016 after learning about it group from a friend.

“For me, of course, I wanted to get healthy, but I really joined for the love of hiking, not necessarily to lose weight,” she said.

But that’s what happened. As of Aug. 13, she had lost 50 pounds.

Contact Kailyn Brown at kbrown@viewnews.com or 702-387-5233. Follow @kailynhype on Twitter.

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