Fitness Friday: Why I Run / by Donna Olivia Owusu-Ansah

Often I am asked, “How do you find the time as a working wife and mother to run?” I hear the statements, “You don’t look like a runner!” and “Wow! I can’t believe you ran a marathon!” more often than I care to. But for this Fitness Friday, I want to explore the question, “Why do you run?”


The abridged version goes something like this: I run because I find joy in running, I want to set a positive example for my two daughters, and I run as an act of both claiming my space in the world and reclaiming myself and my body. I wish I could say that my running journey has been a smooth road, but I’ve had starts and stops, with many first steps.


My first step began in the summer of 2006. Like most people, I started running to lose weight. My good friend was getting married in October and as a single, educated, beautiful woman, I had a dress to fit into and gazes to attract. I fit the dress and even ran a few 5k races, but somewhere along the road, I lost my footing.  


My second first steps came three years later when I found myself entering my final year in Seminary forty pounds heavier than when I began my theological studies. We talked a lot about the importance of self-care, but between papers, projects, and ministry, there was little time or opportunity to practice self-care. I decided that my last year of Seminary would include a self designed and implemented course on self-love, self-care and stewardship. And of course, I started running again. My passion for running was reignited. I found joy on the pavement.


My third first step came six months after I was married to Joseph and ordained into the Gospel ministry. In the midst of being a wife and immersing myself into my ministerial role as an Assistant to the Pastor, I lost myself. It was after a study I led on the connection between nutrition, exercise and Christian Stewardship that I recognized that I wasn’t practicing what I was preaching, literally. I laced up my Nikes and got going again. I stopped when I became ill during my pregnancy with our first daughter.


The most pivotal first step was eight months after the birth of our first daughter. I had always suffered from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and had learned ways of coping with my winter depression, but postpartum depression hit me hard. I was an accomplished woman spending day in and day out at home with my beautiful child, but I was having a hard time enjoying her. It was winter and the twice daily stroller walks we once enjoyed were no more. I had to do something. So I reinstated my gym membership and put my sneakers back on. It was both gaining control, through putting in miles on the treadmill, and relinquishing control, by trusting the gym provided childcare to care for my daughter. The gym was good for me, and I started the Couch to 5K app, but as soon as the weather turned, I made my way back to the pavement. My first 5K postpartum was amazing, especially when my husband met me at the finish with our daughter. 


That first postpartum 5k was all I needed to motivate me to set fire to the road. Shortly after, I joined the Black Girls Run North New Jersey group and attended my first group run. Miles later, I ran my first 10k at the Trenton 10k and Half Marathon. I was unknowingly 4 weeks pregnant with our second daughter when I ran that race. I moved as much as I could during pregnancy, but hyperemesis gravidarum and pre-eclampsia sidelined me. 


When Baby Girl was born, I returned to the pavement. The fierce women at my local Black Girls Run meet ups made me believe I could do anything, so juggling a two year old, infant, and Clinical Pastoral Internship at JFK Medical Center, I registered, trained for and ran my first half marathon--the Niagara Falls Women's Half Marathon. It was an amazing experience! 



That was June 2015. Since then I've put in more miles than I ever imagined, climaxing with training for and running the Philadelphia Marathon in November 2017. I run to find my joy, especially in times of despair and depression. I run because my daughter's need a healthy mama, but also because it demonstrates to them the fulness of what our bodies are capable of--strong, beautiful, and much more than an object for desire. I run because I matter--as a Black Woman in America. I run because I will not allow my body or my self to be marginalized or erased. I run because the presence of my breath reminds me that I am alive. It helps me to remember my capabilities and unique beauty, especially given my tendency to hone in on weight and impossible body image standards. I run to feel beautiful (especially in my Skirt Sports). I run as an act of self love. 


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