Posts Tagged ‘exercise’

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For the past four years before we came here, my job coaching cross country and track & field at Mills College swallowed my life, and race planning was the most difficult part of it. Yet Take Back the Night prompted much more tooth-gnashing, hair-graying, and tear-shedding than any of those other races ever did.  I could chronicle the months-long nightmare of nailing down the date, venue, sponsors, equipment, and marketing, but suffice it to say that everything that could have gone wrong with this event, did.

But at last June 18 arrived, cool and overcast.  Then at 3:00 the skies opened.  We huddled in the stands, hoping that the storm would pass, but the only change was the dirt track turning to mud.  We made nervous jokes about gathering animals two by two. Around 5:00 we gathered to pray, and finally the rain lightened to a heavy sprinkle as we set up for the race. By 6:00 the Samaritana women and other race registrants began to show up.  The women were jittery and feeling varying degrees of fear and excitement about running the 3k or 5k–distances unthinkable just a few months ago when they could jog just once around the block when Super Babae began. “When it started raining, I prayed to God that it would stop in time for the race,” one of the women said to me around 6:30.  “And now it’s stopped. God answered my prayer.” (It started raining again just minutes after our event, and has been raining non-stop every since.)

It was almost completely dark by then, but when we asked the security guard to turn on the electricity for the lights and sound system, he said he couldn’t turn anything on until 7:00 (the time that the 10k was supposed to start), and meanwhile runners and the DJ’s sat in the stands in the dark.  7:00 came and went, and another security guard told us that the event permit, due to a clerical error, said 7:00 a.m. instead of 7:00 p.m. And of course he didn’t have the authority to override it, and his superior had gone home, assuming that because of the rain we’d canceled. So no lights. A race in the dark and the mud? It was a liability bomb just waiting to explode.

Meanwhile the 10k runners were getting restless on our mud swamp of a track, and our MC’s were stalling by yelling announcements with no PA system.  After some heated conversations and frantic prayers, the senior security guard returned from his house to turn on the power and lights to a big cheer from the crowd, and only 30 minutes late, with the Philippine National Anthem and an opening prayer, Take Back the Night was on.

I gathered the women for a quick pep talk, and they put their hands in the middle of the circle and chanted “Super Babae” (Taglish for “Super Woman”).  At the 5k starting line, one of the Samaritana women called the other women together to pray.  She thanked God for the change in weather, and prayed that they would be strong and able to run away from their past, no matter how they finished, and take back the night in their own lives.

As the runners splashed on their way, I cheered and swelled with pride as I saw each Samaritana woman pass, often in pairs or trios, alternating between wide grins and pained grimaces. Nate and Coach Kenny (one of our visiting American volunteers) ran with some of the women who were struggling, encouraging them through each soggy lap.

As the runners crossed the finish line, there was lots of cheering, laughter, and muddy, excited hugs.  One of the top female finishers said that running through the mud had been a fun, new challenge, different from other races she’d run.  The Samaritana women talked about how they’d thought they wouldn’t make it, but were so happy they had.  They were proud and amazed that they’d been able to go so far, and one of the women was pleasantly surprised to find that she’d earned a medal by finishing in the top three in the 3k!

As we awarded medals and cash prizes and then cleaned up for the night, there was a general feeling of cheer and inspiration, despite the long day of rain and the muddy races.  Several runners and volunteers thanked us for putting the event on, and said how inspired they were to be a part of it.  The women thanked us again and again, saying how special it was for them.  As we hugged them and told them again how proud of them we were, their glowing faces told us it had been worth it.

* * * * *

And now we want to thank all of the good people who helped make the event possible!  Thanks to our sponsors Quezon City and Gatorade, to our event partners World Vision and Run4Change!  Thank you to Chloe from Mellow 94.7, Raffy Reyes from RX 93.1, and Katherine Visconti from ABS-CBN for promoting the event.  Thanks to all of the churches who promoted and signed up for the event.  Thanks to the UP Gender Office and College of Human Kinetics for helping us secure the venue.  Thanks to Coach Kenny and the team from Cole Valley Christian school in the US for hours of volunteering, and our friends Joe and M3 for compiling results.  Thank you to everyone at Samaritana who worked so hard around the clock for weeks before this event, especially Ate Becky, Ate Sunny, and Ate Jane.  Thanks to Ate Denise, who spent her entire birthday making sandwiches for and working at the event.  Thanks to everyone who sponsored women to run, making it possible for dozens of them to participate and see what they were capable of.  Thank you to the more than 40 friends and family across the world who committed to praying daily for this event for many weeks, and who were such a source of encouragement to those of us planning.  Most of all, the glory goes to God; it was pretty obvious to us all that this thing couldn’t happen without some miracles, and we’re grateful that His hand was on it all.

If you have a few more minutes, check out more event photos on Samaritana’s facebook page here.

-Laura

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With the enervating smog and climate in Manila, exercise is far from the mind of the average Filipino.  In fact, one native trait we’ve adopted is doing almost anything to avoid walking; Filipinos will stay on a bus those extra ten feet, take a tricycle to avoid a plodding two blocks, and of course stand on the escalator rather than step up it as impatient Westerners do.  Let me be clear that we’re not talking about laziness here—we’re talking about self-preservation, which is what’s required if you don’t want to always carry a backup shirt (see our earlier post, Sweaty State of Mind).

Despite all of this, as a former coach, one of my goals at Samaritana was to start a fitness group for the women.  My hope was to help them reclaim their bodies through exercise, live healthier lives, and learn important life skills like goal-setting and working through stress, grief, and frustration. Giving this fitness group a big step toward reality was a generous donation of $1,000 in workout clothes and running shoes from Nike, which we boxed up, shipped to Manila, and hoped we’d find there on the other side.

Our first sign that we weren’t in the U.S. any more was a notice from the Quezon City post office telling us that we’d have to pay $375 to have the packages released.  It seemed like a blatant attempt to extort from the Americans; we’d already paid $300 to ship the packages from the US, so this additional fee would almost cancel out the value of the donation! We solicited help from Samaritana, Nike, the Fulbright office, the University of the Philippines, and practically everyone we knew here, but the message was the same: pay or say goodbye to your packages. Our resources exhausted, we made our way to the post office, praying for a miracle to the only One we knew who was bigger than corrupt government officials.

We walked up to the window with a Filipino friend, listened as a woman behind the counter rattled off a conversation in Tagalog, watched as she flipped through a packet of documents we mostly couldn’t read, and then . . . smiled at us, gave us the packages, and we walked away without paying a peso! We got our miracle, and our befuddled Filipino friend said that perhaps there was a new customs official who changed the rules, but that he didn’t really know what had just happened.

Back at Samaritana, I wasn’t sure how the women would respond, but I need not have worried.  During our first meeting, before there was any mention of the Nike donation, the women talked about how they wanted to get stronger so they could pick up their kids without straining their backs, how they hoped exercise would make them feel more awake and alive, and how they wanted to improve their health.

After spending the last four years handing out equipment to my Mills College cross country and track & field teams, I’m used to the usual cheer that accompanies getting a new uniform, feeling like you’re part of the team.  But for the Samaritana women (many of whom have never worn any such affluent exercise wear) the reaction was better described as pure joy.  They walked taller, smiled bigger, and giggled endlessly when they saw each other in Dri-Fit outfits, ready to work out.

Over the past two months, Super Babae (babae, “women” in Tagalog, is pronounced buh-bah-eh) has grown and taken shape, and now includes three morning meetings per week where the women do yoga, strength training, and jogging.  My short-term goal is to teach them these exercises well enough that they can do them without me, and to empower the women to lead each other so the group can continue beyond the immediate future.  In the months to come, I hope that the morning routines will not be mere exercise, but a means to healing a broken past and a distorted view of their bodies.  We’ll work on goal-setting, reframing our perceptions, and learning how to conquer our fears—all through moving our limbs and sweating a lot.

Every morning before we begin, I ask the women to close their eyes, breathe, and acknowledge whatever it is they’re carrying on that particular day—sorrow, anger, fatigue, fear—and to ask God to help them let those negative feelings fall to the floor as they move their bodies.  It’s a small thing, these mornings of teaching them to be aware of their bodies and to push themselves.  But so much of what we’ve learned here is that healing happens not in big, dramatic moments, but in learning to sit with life as it is, flex your muscles against the things that restrict you, and break free when the time is right.

-Laura

Thank you to Nike for the donation that made Freedom Fitness possible, and thank you to everyone who has supported our work with these incredible women both financially and through your prayers!