Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Run Like a Girl: How Sports Can Empower You

I never considered myself an athlete. My twin sister grew up with the reputation of being the tomboy of the family, the sporty one who participated in soccer and other organized sports. I was the brain and artsy one, who spent more time practicing my scales and arpeggios on our baby grand piano and perfecting pirouettes in the dance studio. I was intimidated by sports. And I found that I had absolutely no coordination once you threw a ball into the competition. So out were softball, volleyball, soccer, and pretty much every other sport.


I swam during the summer and for my high school, and I started running in junior high, but just to lose enough weight to stop my period (I was a tad anorexic). I continued jogging and swimming through college into early adulthood. But just to stay in shape. Not to push myself.

And then an odd thing happened.

I was running around the Naval Academy one morning … in my mid twenties … and this 80 year old passed me. I said something to him like “Whoa, Dude. Where do you think you’re going?” My ego couldn’t take it. So he asked me to join him. By the end of the five-mile run I was gasping for air. He told me it was good to push yourself. (He was a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Marines.) You learn a lot about yourself. And he ordered me to show up again the next day.


So I did. And before you know it, he had talked me into training for a marathon. Yes, that’s 26.2 miles. I got to 18 miles and had to back out due to a knee injury, but I was astounded that I could run that far. I continued to train for other events: the Annapolis 10-miler, a sprint triathlon, and others. And I made it past the finish line!

The Marine was absolutely right.

It did nurture self-esteem: the process of pushing yourself to a place you didn’t think you could go, and then all of sudden you are there … at the spot where your family and friends greet your sweaty self. And that sensation of triumph, the athletic high after an event, drives you toward others.

Now I’m swimming with a group of athletes who are preparing for the Great Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Yes, a whopping 4.4 miles of kicking and stroking in the water. I didn’t sign up in time, so I’m not registered. But, by training with these sharks, I am amazed that I can swim over 4500 yards and still function throughout the day.


In her new book, “Run Like a Girl: How Strong Women Make Happy Lives,” Mina Samuel writes:

I discovered serious running at age twenty-seven and now participate in road races, marathons, and triathlons. I also hike, kayak, climb, do yoga, cross-country ski, and snowshoe; and as many other things as I can that get me outside in the fresh air, sun, rain, wind, and snow.

Over the years that followed my “discovery” of running, my self-confidence grew, and feeding off the accomplishments I achieved in sports—setting new personal bests, winning a little local race, surviving the setbacks of injuries and marathons gone wrong—I discovered a capacity within myself that I never knew I had. I wasn’t just physically stronger than I expected, I thought of myself as a different person, as someone with more potential, broader horizons, bigger possibilities. I saw that I could push myself and take risks, not just in sports, but elsewhere, too. The competition in sports, as in life, was not with someone else, it was with myself. To “compete” was to discover my own potential to do better, to hold my own self to a higher standard, to expect more of myself—and deliver.


As William James, the nineteenth-century American philosopher, said, “Human beings, by changing the inner beliefs of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”

That’s it, I think. That’s why sports can be a powerful tool of transformation: they make you aware that your potential isn’t a set point, that you can do practically anything you set your mind to. I mean, hell, I may even be able to catch a ball if I tried. But in the mean time, I’m having too much fun seeing how far I can swim, and making sure I outpace the old farts at the Naval Academy.

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  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment MKM

    This is so true! Sports can give you a new zest for life. I have always been athletic but never really pushed myself. After unsuccessfully training for two marathons (only getting to mile 13 because of my knee) I thought about giving up. Until last year when I discovered swimming again and did my first triathlon at age 47. It was one of the best days of my life! Not only did I get the high from completing the triathlon but also my husband and teenage kids were there watching me. For once, they were watching me do something!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Peg

    Therese, love your latest picture, so flattering and emphasizes both your inner and outer beauty. Thanks for all your hard work on this blog.

  • Iain Crabb

    I concur and wrote some similar ideas today on our blog. It’s all about the Warrior Dash, exercise and mood. Check it outhere

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Maria

    How can you push yourself with Fibro. I was diagnosed 5 years ago. I’m pushing myself everyday just to go to work, take a walk at lunch for 30 min and back home, I have no more energy to that, I’m really frustrated, I’ve been trying everything, thanks God that i still have a job of 20 years, that i could kind of work in my own paste, otherwise I’ll be on the street. It is very difficult no one understands me. This is very difficult, and I don’t even have energy to meet people who would understand me. I’m single mom, and been working all my life, but now every morning it seems that the job doesn’t matter, nothing maters no more, I’m exhausted, I would just stay in bed. Any advise.

    On the other note I agree with Peg. Therese I love your new picture, you look beautiful, I read your blog everyday, well done for people like me, you bring new hope. Thanks to your blog I’m still trying to be positive and move forward, but it is very difficult. Thank you. Please keep up the good work.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment irma

    Hi Maria,
    I am glad you are making an effort to be active outside. Everything counts, even 30 min walks home.
    You say that you lack friends or at least people who understand your condition. I am sure you can find a support group for people with Fibro in your community or at least a virtual community of Fibro bloggers.I think you will feel more understood and supported here.

    The one thing I forgot to mention in my last letter to you is that perhaps you can enlist the help of your
    children or your siblings around the house or walk/ run with them outside. This will motivate you more to do it. Try to delegate tasks at home so you have more time for yourself. I make a chore list for my daughters every week and they “sign up” for the jobs they want to do and negotiate them among themselves. My kids are 13 and 15. They recycle, separate laundry, do the dishwasher, walk and feed the dog and help in the yard.

    Stress comes from not taking care of your needs. You are a better mom, friend,colleague after you have taken care of your needs. Otherwise, one can get grumpy.

    Is there any way you can take some time off or a couple of mental health days at work?
    What makes you happy, what makes you feel refreshed?

    Last but not least, have you tried yoga? I am a yoga instructor and I have had a few students in the past with fibro and they all said how much the yoga practice has helped dissipate fatigue and have changed their outlook about themselves and life in general.

    Best of luck Maria!

  • http://Goodwords Sean


    Your words are a daily encouragement to me, although I don’t comment nearly enough. Thank you for sharing your journey with those of us who are on a similar path. Sports and exercise have been one of the most consistent sources of strength for me. In fact I was finding strength and sanity in running before I even knew that was what I was doing. Thanks again.


    p.s. I agree, the new pic is nice.

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