Saturday, May 11, 2013

How WOOT Gave Me Back My Mojo

By Marie Lewis

In 7th grade, I had a friend whom I credit with forcing me to discover my hidden potential. At this point in my life I could run around a soccer field, but I huffed and puffed my way through the one-mile fitness test during gym class. I did not consider myself a runner—merely a second-string player on the JV soccer team.
I promise this story is not about my awkward middle school years, but a little background is necessary to understand how WOOT did something special for me.

My new middle school friend, April, invited me to go running with her one day. She was so darn friendly I didn’t have the heart to turn her down. I made it about half a mile before I had to stop and walk. I felt self-conscious about it, but April seemed all too happy to slow her pace to a brisk walk for the rest of the “run.”
After that, I didn’t expect to be invited out to run with her anymore. I was wrong. April asked me to go with her every day that she ran, and despite my trepidation, I enjoyed her company and didn’t feel like she judged me for being slow.

The first time I completed a mile without walking, I felt like I was floating. April quickly became one of my best friends, and she created a running training schedule for me the summer after middle school. By fall, I had made a decision to quit the soccer team (where I’d always felt like a bit of a misfit) and I joined the cross-country team.
Marie is in the back row, third from the right

That was probably the best decision I made during high school. I was never one of the fastest girls, but I enjoyed competing against myself. More than that, I savored the encouragement I received both from my coach and especially from the other girls on the team. I felt a confidence I’d never experienced before.
Fast-forward 12 years and I’ve completed more 5K races than I can count and two half-marathons to boot. Running remained a constant part of my life throughout college and in the years that followed.

There was something missing, though. I never had a running buddy quite like April after we graduated high school. She was always there, always holding me accountable and always game for a run no matter what her schedule looked like. I’d since found that if I didn’t hold myself accountable, no one else would.

If you’re still reading, you can stop wondering when I’m going to get to this WOOT business. When I arrived in Okinawa, WOOT was my first experience really meeting anyone on this island. Our sponsor, Melissa, invited me to run with some ladies she called “Women on Okinawa Trails,” and I was immediately intrigued.

That first day, the women gathered in a circle and each introduced herself before our group run. Their smiles and easy laughs put me at ease, and they made me feel at home in this strange new place. I’d be lying if I said that I faithfully drag myself out of bed every Saturday at 6:00 a.m. to join every single WOOT run, but on the days I do show up, everyone remembers me. They know the last time I was there and they ask me what I’ve been doing since. They ask me about my life and they share stories with me about theirs. They tell me when I need new running shoes. They push me to run faster than I do alone.

They remind me of April.

If you’re a woman—or if you have a pulse—you probably know that women are not always pillars of support for one another. We compete, we gossip, we sometimes behave in ways we wouldn’t want our daughters to model. But too often, we do not hear about women lifting each other up.

WOOT lifts me up every time I hit the trails with them. When I lace up my running shoes, I step into a judge-free zone full of encouragement. We share parenting tips (those who are moms), nutrition advice, and laugh at ourselves. I know I belong here.

If you’re new to Okinawa and struggling to find a niche, I encourage you to come meet the WOOT and see for yourself why I love this group. There is no fee, no commitment requirement, no catch. We would just love your company.

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