Last year, almost 600 people joined us in Satellite Beach, FL for TWLOHA’s first Run For It 5k. This year, we are excited to announce that even if you can’t make it to Florida, you can participate as a virtual runner, wherever you may be on April 19. Below, a supporter who attended the first Run For It 5k shares why she has been running ever since, and why she’ll be back, stronger than ever, in the virtual race this year .
Last April, something began in my life quite by accident. The simple act of showing up for TWLOHA’s Run for It 5k proved to be a “starting line” of sorts for what has become an ongoing journey of my own, and it has proven to be about so much more than just fitness.
An awareness began to rise to the surface that morning as I looked around at the crowd of runners, each of us so varied, running for our own personal reasons, yet uniting for a cause to help hurting people. It was to be a “fun run,” a recreational time of family bonding for one weekend. I hadn’t trained, and at 48 years old, the race itself was a tough haul for me, but I found myself buoyed by this community of runners and walkers, sweating, singing, laughing, and smiling. “How on earth can running be this enjoyable?” I thought. Oh, I felt the strain on my body, but I also sensed the camaraderie. In coming together for a common goal, we were strengthening each other. The race still had to be run individually—I knew that for sure, as my kids were all well ahead of me—and yet, I didn’t feel alone. I smiled at strangers, high-fived people I’d never met at the finish line, and felt a deep sense of accomplishment, personally and collectively.
A bit of background about me: I grew up small, and weak, and shy, all of which was exacerbated by divorce and alcoholism in the home. I craved approval and became a “people pleaser,” but still spent most of my life feeling “never quite good enough.” There were bright spots: I am a person of faith, I have been loved all of my life, and I had teachers/mentors who helped me discover my talents and encouraged me. But the negative voices from my childhood deepened into tones of self-doubt and at times self-loathing.
I remember stinging words on a playground in 7th grade, as my coach compared my physical appearance to that of my “kid brother.” I’m sure she thought the comparison might help the class foster some understanding that, even at 12 years old, bodies come in all shapes and sizes. But I didn’t hear it that way. Shame is what I heard, and humiliation is what I felt—reinforcing my weakness, my smallness, no matter how hard I tried to compensate and please.
I have carried wounds like these inside of me for decades. I have led an accomplished life, but always with a limp. There was an unhealed injury, an unattended girl inside. It was that little girl who approached the starting line a year ago in Satellite Beach, daring to compete in an athletic event. “What on earth? Well, it’s just for fun, right? For a good cause?” But it was about so much more. For every little girl or boy who survives the wounds of childhood to finally “get it together,” there are also many who don’t. They lose what’s left of themselves in a tide of sadness and a chorus of negativity and depression. Some may lose all.
That morning, I thought I was signing up for something lighthearted, but a weighty purpose settled upon me that day … and I began to run. I ran for me, for my kids, for hurting women, for unloved sons, for those whose destiny had become shrouded by desperation. I ran that 5k—and then I ran a 4-miler, a 10-miler, and last weekend in Tampa, I ran my very first half marathon in the city where I grew up. It was like returning to the scene of a crime, but this time, I was not the victim. I was part of the task force that had blown the case wide open. As I drove north out of town, I deliberately put on my medal and drove past my middle school, eyeing the very spot where I had been humiliated so long ago. As an almost 50-year-old woman, I had gone back and vindicated that tiny 7th grade girl. She had been waiting for me to rescue her all these years.
In running, I have discovered an inner fortitude. When I run, I wage war with my own physical limitations and with those persistent negative voices—yes, there are still some there. But I’ve been amazed at the sense of community I’ve found in runners: always welcoming, helpful, and ready to share their stories, their hard-earned wisdom. Two of my fitness mentors are women whom I would consider to be strong, yet it is not only their strength that inspires me; it is knowing that they fought their way from a point of weakness, through eating disorders and depression, to arrive at a place of loving themselves, accepting themselves, and daring to believe that their journey might just have been worth it because they can now encourage others.
Fitness is a benefit of activity, but there is something deeper that I’ve tapped into. The power I’ve gained has not been mere muscle; it has transferred to all areas of my life, resulting in a newfound courage and energy.
An anthem for me this year and my “power song” in my training has been Katy Perry’s “Roar.” I love the line that says, “You hear my voice, you hear that sound. Like thunder, gonna shake the ground.” This year, I’ll run for those who haven’t yet found their voice, their nerve, their strength, their freedom. I know they are listening for our stories, longing for our encouragement.
Though I can’t make it to Satellite Beach for the official race again, I’ll be running for it in my own community, joined by virtual runners across the country, perhaps even around the world. This time, my route will cover the same streets where I’ve trained and grown and learned so much since last April. This time, I’ll run on purpose, for purpose.