Prompted by the Today Show last week, I've been privileged to hear some inspiring women's stories. I wanted to share a small sampling.
“I was NEVER athletic growing up, always the last picked in gym class, etc.” As an adult in the 70’s, Gwen discovered that she enjoyed walking, and even aerobics. But still, “I never ever ran.” Then her oldest son, Danny, died of leukemia at age 25 in 1998.
Gwen told me, “I joined Team in Training and trained for a marathon! My first marathon was Dublin in Oct. 1999. I did that before I did any 5Ks or anything.” Gwen trained to walk the race, but in the midst of the race, around mile 18, she decided to run. She just wanted to get finished. Then she ran another Team in Training marathon in Anchorage in 2000, and she’s still running. Gwen is also studying and teaching yoga now. As Gwen says of her running, “OK. . . I am far from the fastest one out there but I have fun and keep going. Running has been medicine, religion, love and prayer.”
As running has been to so many women.
At 64-years old, Ane is a 27-year, 9 time breast cancer survivor. She says, “I have it now - but I refuse to let in run my life. I have been extraordinarily lucky!”
In 1992, after a very debilitating second bout of cancer, Anne built up to walking in 5K races. Then, in 1998, a friend challenged her to walk a half-marathon. And Anne walked the Disney half in January 1999. “I am currently training to race walk my 7th half-marathon in Portland, Maine on October 2 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.” Anne’s goal is to finish the 13.1 miles in less than 3 hours.
Anne says, “I firmly believe that this exercise and all the challenges have helped me so much with fighting this terrible disease.”
Well I, for one, am not going to argue with her on that point.
Kristina’s father always told her that she "ran like a girl," and he didn’t mean it the way we do, he meant it in, as she says, “a sort of sexist/joking/condescending way, which I didn't realize was demeaning and damaging to my self-esteem until recently. I actually always participated in the joke.” And why not?—we are programmed to believe our parents, at least for the early part of our lives. For the first 28 years of Kristina’s life, she “HATED” running. In fact, she reports that she spent her twenties in a drunken supor and gained 50 pounds. She had created her own perfect catch-22, in which she hated herself for being fat, so she drank, which caused her to get fatter. I think that defines a vicious cycle. As Kristina says, “my depression got the best of me and I did all the things girls with poor self-images do.” But luckily for Kristina, somewhere underneath the weight of depression and despite the fog of alcohol, she decided to join a weight management program at a local hospital. Finally, this year, after one false start, she started to taste some success. “I went on a strict 1200-calorie diet with no exercise other than my part-time weekend job as a ski instructor. I also stopped drinking. My ski buddies (well, drinking buddies who skied sometimes) told me I was no fun anymore and gave me a very hard time about my efforts to get healthy.” Not only was Kristina’s lifestyle change difficult, the "loss" of friends took its toll. If that wasn’t enough, Kristina was dating a condescending marathon runner (it’s sad, but true, not all runners are nice people). Her boyfriend told her that if she really wanted to lose weight, she ought to register for a 5k. He may have been condescending, but his advice wasn’t wrong. The guy I was dating at the time was a marathon runner (and the condescending guy you describe in your book) and he said, "If you really want to lose weight, register for a 5k." Kristina asked her mother what she thought about her daughter running a 5k; to which her mother helpfully responded, "you'll never be able to run a 5k."
I don’t get it—what’s to be gained from diminishing one’s own daughter in that way?
No matter. Kristina told me, “I've now run three 5k races, and a 4-mile race, and I'm registered to run the Falmouth Road Race (7 miles) in August. In less than four months I've lost 38lbs and I'm happier than I've ever been. I'm still counting calories and working on losing that remaining 12lbs. My relationship with food has changed dramatically and I'm growing veggies on the back porch of my apartment, getting organic produce delivered to my house weekly, and learning how to cook. It was empowering to get rid of the mean boyfriend, but I am still grateful for his advice. p.s. When I finished my first 5k I sent the photo to my dad with a note that said, ‘I still run like a girl.’"
Indeed, she does.
Suzanne is the CEO of an agency in Florida and has been trying to lose weight, mend a broken heart, generally get her life back, but it simply wasn’t happening; or at least not until she started training for the SheRox Sprint Triathlon in August 2011. Training, as she says, “thinking all the time that I couldn't do it.” Wrong. In fact, Suzanne proved the opposite to herself, “I can not only do it, but I am good at it. Now, my confidence level is through the clouds into space, my weight is going down, my workout buddy and I have signed up for other events here in Florida and other states, I am so much better at my job and finally...FINALLY healing.”
Gwen, Anne, Kristina and Suzanne are showing us all what it means to run like girls.