Growing up, exercise was a part of my daily life. We lived in a college town and my mom didn't drive, so walking or biking was how we got around. No one in my family is what I'd call an athlete, but our leisure time always included golf or Frisbee or swimming or badminton or a family bike ride. In junior high I received the Presidential Fitness Award even though I didn't play team sports like most of my friends. I remember thinking I wouldn't be able to run a 7:30 mile - but I did!
During high school I chose to focus on music and journalism rather than athletics. I sometimes ran in my neighborhood or did exercise videos but I never had a strict workout regimen. In college, I discovered the gym. I had never been overweight or inactive but I was worried about the Freshman 15 and the gym was a great escape from the pressures of school and a difficult roommate situation. Running on the treadmill, listening to tapes on my Walkman (yes, I'm old), I was transported into my own world.
After dropping out of college I stopped exercising regularly for a while, despite the fact that I belonged to a gym. A few years later I separated from my husband and was laid off from my job shortly after that. Suddenly I had all the time in the world to exercise. I couldn't afford a gym membership any longer, but I had a pair of running shoes and a yoga tape. I spent hours each day walking or running the fantastic trails in Lincoln and doing yoga. It was a very difficult time; I was poor and lonely and my future was bleak. As I sank deeper and deeper into a depression, I struggled to lace up those shoes and get out the door, but it was the only thing that made me feel better. Following the jogging trail kept me from going down a much darker path and frankly, it saved my life.
Eventually, I went back to college to finish my degree and rediscovered the campus gym. A friend and I would often meet late at night to run on the treadmills, because it was the only time our schedules coincided. A new workout buddy convinced me to join the YMCA with her because it offered reduced membership rates for struggling students and waitresses like us. After graduation I moved to California and joined a gym near my house, enjoying the opportunity to swim outdoors year-round and hit the great running and biking trails in NorCal. I went to the gym regularly despite a grueling work schedule, and was rewarded with feeling healthy and strong and in the best shape of my life on my wedding day.
When I moved back to Nebraska, one of the first things I did was rejoin the YMCA. I got pregnant not long after moving back but I continued to do cardio and yoga on a regular basis. After having the baby, the last thing I wanted to do was exercise. I was heavier than I'd ever been, but SOOOO tired. Then depression reared its ugly head again and I knew I had to act. Although the YMCA offers childcare, my child wanted nothing to do with it. I forced myself to get up and head to the gym after the 5am feeding a few days a week, and to put the baby in the sling or stroller to walk in the afternoons when the walls started closing in. Many days, I didn't see how I would be able to keep putting one foot in front of the other. But we survived. I lost the baby weight, just in time to get pregnant again. I went to the Y religiously during my second pregnancy (and still regained the 40 lbs I'd just lost!) but I felt healthy and I knew exercise was helping to strengthen me inside and out. My second baby was born just a few hours after I completed a brisk 3-mile walk, and all that exercise allowed me to deliver - and recover - quickly and drug-free.
With two small children, it was a struggle to carve out time to exercise. My second baby didn't like Child Watch any more than my first, so I continued going to the Y early in the morning before my husband went to work. I bought a double jogger and started hitting the trail near my house. I was out there nearly every day, rain or shine, in freezing and sweltering temperatures. I avoided postpartum depression after the second baby, and my bad days were never as bad, despite there being double the amount of crying and diapers.
Now I've lost the baby weight for the last time, but I continue to run. I run because it combines two of my favorite mood-lifters: exercise and the outdoors. I run because it makes me feel strong and proud and capable. I run to maintain my sanity and to keep depression at bay. I prefer to run alone, because it's often the only time during a day when I can be alone and I am an introvert. My husband is a runner but we don't run with each other (he's much too fast, plus someone has to watch the kids!) although he ran an entire 5K by my side last year, sacrificing a better time just to support me. I like feeling connected to others who run, this secret club we carry in our heads and hearts. Maybe I'll develop some of that competitive fire that others seem to have and start signing up for races right and left. But probably not. I'm not running toward anything or away from anything or for a cause. I run just for me. I run to live.