Friday, April 26, 2013

Running With & For Women

Running WITH & FOR Women

A few months ago, I wrote a blog entitled “The Beauty of 2nd Place” where I shared some of my thoughts on what it means to win.  Over the years I have to realize that any sport or “competition” really has nothing to do with getting that number one spot, and everything to do with getting the best out of yourself…and others.

[Most of us view competition as a healthy activity that sometimes can be taken too far.  However, I’d like you to take a look at how competition is defined. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “compete” as: to strive consciously or unconsciously for an objective (as position, profit, or a prize) : be in a state of rivalry.  That definition may have its proper place in some places, but I do not want it to define my running.  To me, that definition is lacking.  It needs to include feeling, yearning, and the want to do one’s best for the sake of seeing what one is capable of… and, the push to see what other’s are capable of. ]

Not long ago, I read “How Winning Works: 8 Essential Leadership Lessons from the Toughest Teams on Earth” by Robyn Benincasa and was stuck by the challenge she presented to “…wake up every morning and make the conscience decision to see a world of full of teammates instead of a world full of competitors.”  How much easier life, and running, would be if I changed my perspective to match that attitude! 

My first ultra of the season is Sunday.  With my first ultra, I have a new goal for this year of ultra running:  To view the other women runner’s as allies, all of us pushing one another to do and be our best.  This year, I will not run against the other women…I will run with them, and I will run for them.

After all, one of the reasons I run ultras and endure the pain of so many miles has always been to empower other women.  I want all women and girls to know what they are capable of, if only they find the courage to try.  I want them to see how strong and beautiful they truly are.

I also want to run for my sisters overseas…the ones in 3rd world countries who have undergone more cruelty than I can imagine, the ones who are fighting for their lives every day. 

Last year I read an extremely powerful book entitled “Half the Sky” about the oppression of women around the world, and how it can be changed into opportunities for them to thrive.  I recommend that book to everyone, but especially women.  I can’t remember what country they were from, but I remember reading a story of a young girl and her sister who were beaten and raped.  One of the sisters ended up being murdered, and the other sister had to go on without her.  I thought of my own sisters, and I wept.  The love I feel for my sisters is so strong that if anything ever happened to one of them, I don’t know how I could ever go on.  I resolved that in some way, I needed to help my sisters overseas to keep their sisters close and alive. 

Of course, women in America too face many problems.  Despite winning many of our legal rights for equality, we still struggle.  Most of that struggle is internal…we feel we are not good enough, beautiful enough, strong enough…just never enough.  But we can change that too.

I want to acknowledge the men here too.  There are so many amazing men out there that our supporting women in various aspects, from encouraging them to go after their dreams (thank you Steve) or taking lead roles in organizations that support women.  If you’re a male reading this, I want you to know how awesome and appreciated you are.  THANK YOU!

However, I believe it is women who need to take the lead here.  It is our sisters who are struggling, and who better to help them realize all of their potential than another woman?  As women, we can empathize with them, share in their struggles, and lift them up. 

Despite not having much money, I have found (and am still exploring) numerous ways to empower other women and girls.  One, as mentioned above, is running.  Another way is simply by educating myself on women’s issues through books and the news.  Then, there are literally hundreds of great organizations out there that are working to empower women and girls by giving them the tools they need to overcome their struggles and succeed.  You can probably even find one tailored to your specific interest, from running to making sure girls in Pakistan go to school, and helping women earn degrees in engineering to micro-funding women to start their own businesses.

Here are a few of my personal favorites:

Mission: Girl Up is an innovative campaign of the United Nations Foundation. We give American girls the opportunity to become global leaders and channel their energy and compassion to raise awareness and funds for United Nations programs that help some of the world’s hardest-to-reach adolescent girls.

Steve, his daughter Marie, and I have “change for charity” containers we decorated at our house.  Each December, we donate the money to charity.  This year we chose to donate to “Girl Up”.  Yes, it was a small amount, but a small amount can make a big difference in another country, and many small amounts can amount to making a big difference!  Through their website, I have also sent a few emails to congress to advocate for change.  It literally takes 30 seconds!


Women for Women International

Mission: Women for Women International supports women in war-torn regions with financial and emotional aid, job-skills training, rights education and small business assistance so they can rebuild their lives.

This is such a wonderful organization!  I highly suggest you check out their website, but in the simplest of terms, the money raised is given to women in 3rd world countries who then enter a year long program to learn business skills and job training so they can earn their own living.  I was first introduced to this organization by a friend, Crystal, when I attended her charity run for the Women for Women. She then ran and completed the 135 mile Badwater Ultramarathon, donating all the money she raised to the organization. (Go Crystal!)  I then learned more about their incredible work when reading Half the Sky.

And finally…

Mission: We inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running.

I tell everyone I know that I love Girls on the Run and I wish the program was around when I was in school!  It combines my passion of running with helping girls embrace who they are and realizing their potential.  I’ve now been a volunteer coach with the organization for 3 seasons and it has been an extremely rewarding experience for me.  This year I have even had the opportunity to share experience with my boyfriend’s daughter in 3rd grade, which is undoubtedly making a relationship even closer.  There are several ways to become involved such as volunteer coaching, donating money, becoming a Sole Mate, or volunteering at the 5k.

In addition to the many organizations we can support, we have the opportunity to help and empower women and girls in small but very big ways in our daily lives.  For example, please stay away from using any negative adjectives and descriptions of women…even if you are just joking. Let all the women in your life know that they are beautiful.  Better yet, let them know that their beauty comes from within.  It is what is in our hearts and minds that shines through us. Women: Stop comparing yourself to other women and stop judging yourself…especially in the mirror.  You are more than a reflection!  Support other women my encouraging them to do their best and go after their dreams.  Help them to see how strong they are.  Give compliments!  Ask women for their opinions and feelings!  Recommend a good book!  Those are just a few suggestions, but there are many ways you can run with, and for, the women in your life.

Learn. Dream. Live. Run.   (Girls on the Run)