More than a run: A lesson from Africa

May 30, 2009

When I ran the Freihofer’s Race for Women six years ago, I had just returned from my first trip to Africa.

I had lived with a polygamous family in Cameroon and developed friendships with the four co-wives. The women had inspired me, showing both physical and spiritual strength when they had so little of everything else: no electricity, barely enough money to meet their children’s needs, and no financial or personal freedom to pursue their dreams.

Just weeks after returning to the States, I waited behind the starting line of the 5K race in my hometown of Albany, NY. Standing next to my mom, sister and thousands of other women, I could feel the pre-race anticipation grow as crowds of runners stretched and ran in place, preparing for the contest.

But everyone stood still when the national anthem began to play. As the words of the Star-Spangled Banner echoed through the crowds, I watched the women and girls standing around me in solidarity, as well as the men and boys on the sidelines, there to cheer us on. Suddenly it hit me, how lucky I was to be a woman in America, free to run this race, supported by both the women and men in my life. I started to cry.

My sister, who’s close to me in age, looked at me with wide eyes, horrified and embarrassed that I would shed tears in public. But my mom somehow understood my feelings, and she teared up, too.

That’s when the starting gun went off. We ran the race, and though I had to be escorted to the medical tent at the end — apparently running doesn’t mix with a recent bout of malaria — we crossed the finish line with hoards of other proud women.

Why am I sharing this with you? Because today I’m running that race again. Back from another trip to Africa, I’ll again stand behind that starting line and reflect on what it means to be an American woman, how lucky I am to have a pair of running shoes, the freedom to run for fun, and a country that finds women valuable enough to give us a race of our own.

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