Rancho Cienega walkers bring people together

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At the Rancho Cienega field and track, the pace is a lot slower, and the chatter is a lot louder. “There’s another one, hi love. How’s it going? Doing fine,” said a walker to another.

imageThe Rancho Cienega track was built for the 1984 Olympics; today it is bringing people together from all over Los Angeles.

Willie Holmes started walking in 1959 after his doctor told him it would fix his knee problems.

“He said all you got to do is exercise and I said I am. He said you ain’t doing enough. I haven’t had a problem since. The older you get the more exercise you got to do more exercise than you ever did in your life and when you start getting old, but a lot of people don’t understand that,” said Holmes.

Today Holmes, who is 81-years-old, spends every morning at the track from 7 to 11 am. He does 16-hundred steps three days a week, and walks a mile on the others. Afterwards you will find him underneath the big tree in the corner eating a healthy breakfast of bananas and pecans, and helping stretch or massage other walkers. He pointed out one man in particular who he helped with arthritis.

He helped rub out Daniel Brown’s knee, who is better known as Mr. Brown at the track. He has been walking there for ten years.

“I retired on Friday and came out here Monday and started walking. I’ve been walking ever since,” said Brown.

He’s been making friends like Willie Holmes since he started walking at Rancho Cienega.

“Everywhere I go I run into someone that I know, no matter what part of town I go in, I run into someone here who walk. They change clothes and don’t look the same and come up and speak and say oh I walk out there, we walk,” said Brown.

Mr. Brown walks a mile with his cane alongside his partners Joney Spencer and Trudy Wiggins. They walk five days a week all year round. When they are done walking they sit on the bleachers and talk about life, sports, and health food. Wiggins says they like to mingle with everyone who passes by.

“We introduce ourselves, we get to know them. So therefore there aren’t too many people who walk out here that we don’t know. We don’t care who they are, so we’re just like one big happy family out here, and if you want to be our family you got to come out here and walk a couple weeks and then we let you get in the family,” said Wiggins.

This group of senior citizens does not go unnoticed by other younger walkers at the track.

“They have done so much for the track, they keep us motivated to keep coming. I’m 54 and I’m the little boy here,” said a younger walker passing by.

The Rancho Cienega track and field is home to a very different kind of family. It’s become the one permanent fixture in many of the walker’s lives.

“A day without walking is a day like something went wrong, like the day’s not complete,” said Wiggings.

Everyone at the track agreed. When they don’t spend the day at the track, they spend it wishing they could be with the Rancho Cienega family.

A hidden treasure in Crenshaw

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On busy Crenshaw Boulevard there lies peace and tranquility in the large orange house on the corner. With a Buddha statue and large paper lanterns on the porch, it is unlike all the other homes on the block.

This house is the Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Temple, where you can hear chanting everyday. The temple moved from Hollywood to Crenshaw in 1980 after facing religious and racial intolerance. The abbot and founder of the temple, Walpola Piyananda says he has never felt unwelcome in Crenshaw.

“There are beautiful houses, neighbors are wonderful not making any difficulties. Fortunately in this neighborhood we didn’t get any trouble,” said Piyananda.

Crenshaw Boulevard is the home of many other churches and denominations, however many residents in the area don’t know that the temple, or any practice of Buddhism even exists.

As a local Crenshaw reporter, said he’d never heard of any Buddhism in the area.

“I think most people from what I know in this area would probably be Christian, either Baptist, Methodist, mostly Protestant Christian within the area. I had no idea there were any Buddhist temples or anything Buddhist in Crenshaw period,” said Brian Carter.

There are over 400 Buddhist temples in the Los Angeles area, but only a few people practice and come to Piyananda from Cresnshaw.

“Here most of the people are coming in Sri Lankan communities, born Buddhist families, Tai people, sometimes other ethnicities,” said Piyananda.

The Dharma Vijaya temple offers spiritual advice, religious counseling, and meditation. They don’t advertise within the community and are open to all religions.

“Buddhism we are not trying to convert anyone to our religion. If anyone needs any assistance we help them,” said Piyananda.

After 32 years, the Dharma Vijaya temple has become a permanent fixture in Crenshaw and is helping give back to a community that knows little about its existence.