Saturday, for me, was about the power of women. My personal power as a woman, yes. Roughly 12 weeks ago, I challenged my mind and my middle-aged body to do something new. And I did it. I also pledged to dedicate my effort to my sisters in the Congo. This weekend, when I returned to Run for Congo Women home base in Lincoln Park after a 3.2 mile trek (My first 5K!), and today when I gathered donations to mail to Women for Women International, I made good on that pledge. But what perhaps began as an effort to make myself feel good, through exercise and charity, became something more.
It became about the resilience of women--their enduring hope and strength--as proven by the letter from a woman in the Congo, read by run organizer Tracy Ronzio at the start of Saturday's event.
It became about real women (and men) and their real stories, thanks to the Chicago Congolese that I met at the event.
It became about how much the company of women inspires and nurtures me. I am grateful for the company of Meghan, Tracy, Tanisha and Paula.
Paula, has been a friend for nearly a decade. We have tackled many firsts together--from belly dancing to running. I am honored that she was willing to stretch beyond her comfort zone (see story below) to try this first with me. Whenever we spend time together, which is too rarely given that we now live hours away from each other, I am reminded of how much I miss having her in my daily life.
I was astonished when I first received Meghan's e-mail that she would join me in the Run for Congo Women Chicago. I know that I invited folks to join me. But I didn't really think anyone would. Why would they? I'm just some woman who shares her numerous opinions on a blog. You all don't know me. But Meghan began training at home, hundreds of miles from me, and sharing her progress through e-mail. Then Tanisha signed on. Then Tracy. These women gave up their Saturdays, hauled husbands and boyfriends and adorable babies from Wisconsin and downstate Illinois and across the city. I don't know whether it was the strength of the cause or what, but these women showed up for themselves, for me and for their sisters on the other side of the world.
The What Tami Said team rocked, by the way. Tanisha, who hadn't even been training, was the first of us to finish the run. She ran the whole thing easily. Meghan, too, ran the whole way, accompanied by her husband and baby Ezekiel, rolling in the race support vehicle (er, stroller). Tracy, who in the last year has worked up to running six miles nearly every day, slowed her pace to accompany Paula and I, both new runners. Her engaging laugh kept us moving and helped us run all but .5 miles of the route. Only walking a half mile out of 3.2 was a coup considering that I had only ever run about 1.7 miles since I started training and Paula is only on week six of C25K.
But enough from me...I asked the ladies to share their thoughts on the experience. I'll add Tanisha's as soon as I have it in hand.
“I feel fat.” These were the words of a woman from Congo being sponsored by Women for Women International. She continued, “I feel fat with happiness. You run for us. I feel love.” These words propelled me and about 200 other runners on our 5K along Chicago’s Lake Shore path. The irony is, I am fat. Moving 40 plus pounds of extra “me” around the training loop takes a serious effort. I trained for 10 weeks, going from 3 minute running intervals to 40 minutes without stopping. It was difficult. Yet, my effort has been fueled by knowing that my work pales in comparison to the effort Congolese heroines muster daily to survive and heal the ravages of war. And, so I ran for my sisters in Congo. In my 38 minute, 30 second 5K run I felt the world was a smaller and gentler place – and new friends Tanisha, Tami, Tracy and Paula put their arms around me at the start and finish in the best kind of sister’s embrace. My husband pushed our little son in his stroller along the route too, companions on the journey to better health and social justice. So, I ran my first 5K in more than 8 years to live my commitment to be a good global neighbor, a compassionate woman, and a model to my youngest son, who is a child of Africa and a black American. Today, I shouted across the continents to our sisters in Congo, “I feel fat with happiness too. I feel love. I ran for you! I did it!”
"Never say never!" I usually try to avoid cliches and catch phrases. They always seem to be overused and lacking creativity. But, as I reflect on my participation in Saturday's "Run for Congo Women", the aforementioned cliche really does apply. I love to try new things, especially when it comes to exercise and fitness. I've taken yoga, aerobics classes, worked with a trainer, learned to belly dance and step (a great Chicago dance-style). All of which I did to enhance a boring workout regimen and most of all to try something different. Yet, when my friend Tami mentioned that she was going to run in her first 5k, I thought to myself..."Not me". In fact, when she asked me to join in, I said, "I'll walk...but I'm not a runner." After our conversation, I thought about it. Why am I not a runner? After a few thoughtful moments, I couldn't come up with one answer (ok...excuse). So, I decided to give it a try. I downloaded a couch to 5k podcast, and began training for my first 5k. There were some difficult days though. But, I still trudged along. I began to focus on my goals: running in my first 5k; relieving stress; becoming more fit and most importantly, challenging and pushing myself. In a matter of 6 weeks, I'd built up the endurance to run not walk in the 5k.
The cause: Congo women. I couldn't have been more inspired to run on behalf of these women. Though we are worlds apart, we share a kindred spirit. My prayer for all of them is that the Congo will be transformed by the tenacity and courage of those women. And, that future generations will be able to build on their hope and strength.
Running a 5k: I'd like to thank my friend Tami and her blog sisters for an enjoyable experience. I plan on continuing to run every other day (weather-permitting). I needed a reminder that nothing can be gained if I don't try. That's what I've always lived and believed. The "Run for Congo Women" reminded me of that fact. Will I run in another 5k? I'd love to! Will I ever participate in a marathon? Well, never say never!!!
Saturday, October 3rd, I arose from my soft, warm, comfy bed at 4 am. I took a hot shower, and got dressed. Then I went into my kitchen, made some coffee and had a nice breakfast of cereal and a banana. I packed a light lunch, my camera, money, a credit card, and of course my makeup and headed out of my home. As I entered my van, I decided that I would probably need more caffeine for my trip, so I stopped at Dunkin Donuts for a latte extra expresso and, what the heck, a donut.
At 5 am, after rising safely, clothing and feeding myself, I was on my way to Chicago to run a 5k for Women of the Congo. I was running this race for women who did not have a safe and warm place to sleep, a stable roof over their heads, went without food, lived in terror and didn't know from one day to the next whether or not that this would be their last day alive.
I met Tami and her friends Paula, Meghan and Tanisha - four beautiful and lively souls! The day started out downcast but the mood was uplifting - Meghan (oh I haven't run for 8 years) and Tanisha left us in their dust, while Tami, Paula and I paced ourselves. For their first 5K, they both did splendid. When we crossed the finish line, good food, great music and (gasp) shopping awaited us. And so did the sun..... Except for the race tshirt (I am using mine as a flag..) [Editor's note: Yeah, that allegedly XL t-shirt was awfully tiny.] everything turned out perfect. Thank you Tami, for alerting me and others about this great cause and thank you for letting me join you in helping women in need around the world.