More than a run: A lesson from Africa

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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14 Responses

  1. What an inspiring post! It’s easy to take our freedom for granted. I enjoy reading about your experiences in Africa….

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  2. One of your best posts yet, my opinion. So true we take so many freedoms in this country for granted. And I applaud you for being able to shed tears in public. If we FEEL, and are able to EXPRESS, we are transparent and FREE.

    Nice going. I used to run 5K’s, I was an avid daily jogger doing 7-8 miles a day in my 20’s & 30’s. But the knees blew out years ago – sure do miss it. Have fun and set a personal best record!

    The Old Silly from Free Spirit Blog

  3. What a fabulous post. Very touching.

    I hope you zip across the finish line and do not head to the medical tent this time! And have fun.

    Straight From Hel

  4. HI Alexis,
    My favorite post yet. I really love the personal touch in posts. This one has that and so much more in its message. This one shows you are a gifted writer and makes me anticipate your soon-to-be published memoir much more eagerly.

  5. No matter the race, you’re always a winner, Alexis.

    Best Regards, Galen.

  6. Wonderful! Hope you have a great run today. I need to send a link to your blog to my pal Kim who spent some time last year working with a village in Have, Ghana. I’m sure you would have much to share about your experiences.

  7. Hope today’s race was great – you had a beautiful day for it!

  8. Beautiful post. Especially reflecting on the running shoes, when I’m sure you’ve seen those without any shoes to wear. Hope the race went well!

  9. A wonderful post. I think the experience you had in Africa makes you a sensitive and stronger person. Freedom and inspiration can be found in situations very different from ours. It’s good that you do not judge but embrace those experience.

    In Quest of Theta Magic

  10. way to mock me publicly. 🙂

  11. I agree — there are so many times we catch ourselves taking things for granted here in America. I try to be conscious of it all, but more often than not we just go on with our lives. Ah, well, thanks for putting things back in perspective, Lex!

  12. […] Delivering the gift of school to a polygamous family makes me appreciate everything I have: my running shoes, my education, and my financial and personal freedom as a […]

  13. […] running my favorite 5K race, the Freihofer’s Race for Women in Albany, N.Y. (which I wrote about last year). Should be a fun […]

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