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Healthy Balance

“Written On My Heart:” One Woman’s Four Miler Training Program Experience

Alice Carpenter is an RN who performs cardiac stress testing in the Cardiac Stress Lab at UVA. She shared her Women’s Four Miler Training Program experience with us.

Alice Carpenter and her daughter Sydney will participate in the Charlottesville Women's Four Miler on Labor Day.
Alice Carpenter and her daughter Sydney will participate in the Charlottesville Women’s Four Miler on Labor Day.

In 2007, I had only heard bits and pieces of information about the Charlottesville Women’s Four Miler Training Program. Two friends who worked in my department at UVA were talking about doing a summer exercise program, and all three of us decided to participate in the Four Miler program.

To be clear, I have never been a runner, and the idea of ever reaching four miles seemed about as likely to me as winning an Olympic gold medal. I had been through several surgeries as a result of injuries from a bad fall, and so I began the summer training program with the sole expectation of getting a little more active and trying to regain some strength.

My First Year of Training

Then something special happened. My first Saturday “in training” was more than an exercise program for me. It was FUN! There was Joan Esposito (the Four Miler volunteer coach, otherwise known as “Big Pink”) up there with all of the other “Pink Lady” volunteers laughing, dancing, cheering and teaching about health and exercise topics and breast cancer prevention. She was encouraging everyone there to be the best they could be, regardless of where they were starting in their exercise program.

I will never forget the first time Joan’s eyes met mine. Unknown to her, I was one of those faces in the crowd that met her gaze and smile, and I was hooked. Her smiles and encouragement made everyone there feel like they could really do this, have fun, and get active again. I felt a little glimmer of hope every time she smiled at me and encouraged us along.

The first year, I was too timid to even go off of the track and onto the road with the other ladies. But the last week in training before the Charlottesville Women’s Four Miler race that year, I found myself walking my 16th lap around the track, and suddenly, it hit me. I was really going to be able to do this thing!

Up until that moment, the idea of my name in the same sentence as “foot race” was not something I could have imagined in my wildest dreams. With tears of joy streaming down my face (and no small measure of astonishment) at my milestone, and totally lost in that thought, I walked that last lap. Another lady came alongside me and said, “I think you’re walking faster than I’m running!” We both laughed, but it really underscored for me how far I had come that summer.

The First Race Day

I had the joy of sharing race day with my daughter, who turned 12 years old that Labor Day Saturday. It was our first race together. I was never going to be one of those six-minute-mile, jackrabbit-twenty-somethings who looked like gazelles leading the pack. But I finished that race and celebrated with my daughter — both her birthday and our race together.

The feeling of stepping out onto that course for the first time is indescribable. Crossing the finish line for the first time is an accomplishment I will never forget.

A Personal Connection

Then in January a few months later, something else happened. One of the ladies who worked with me and who had finished that first summer of training and the race was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Most people know someone who has been affected by breast cancer, and now it was happening to someone else close to me. We spent the next few months trying to help our friend “Mo” through her treatments, and when summer rolled around, we decided to do the training program and race again. This time, we completed the race with a sobering purpose. We completed the race as “Team MOtivation” in her honor.

We had moved beyond the concept of exercise to a cure for breast cancer as the key topic of the Training Program the Four Miler race. The concepts of health and exercise taught during the summer program had now become even more personal.

Becoming a Pink Lady

Following that race, I knew I had to do something more. If I could do this, anybody could do this, and those Pink Lady volunteers had taught me how to encourage other people to try. I became a “Pink Lady” and have spent every summer since then helping ladies learn how to walk, run or find something in between to help them become more active.

In the process of volunteering, I have made new friends and felt the satisfaction of watching others complete their own first races, realize their own personal exercise goals, and feel empowered to do something beyond what they thought they could do.

The Ones I Run With

Racing On September 1, I will once again complete the race with my daughter, this year on her 17th birthday. During our years of training together, I have seen our conversations as we walk together progress from musings with a little girl to talks with a beautiful young lady who is now contemplating college choices. I cherish those moments together with her and love hearing from her about her thoughts as we walk together.

As we complete the race this year, once again I will be thankful for the sheer joy of mobility and what these two events have given to me. I will be thankful for the closeness with women who struggle and with women who care. I will cherish the moments I’ve spent with my daughter preparing for a race.

As I am preparing for the race, there is one final item I add to my “to do” list. Every year since 2007, I have written the names of ladies who are near and dear to me and who have faced breast cancer and its consequences on my arms before I head out for the race. As these ladies have faced this disease, some have survived and some did not.

Some were young women when they faced the “C” word, and some of them were older. All of them faced their diagnosis, fears, pain and treatment with dignity, grace and grit. Their names will be written on my arms, and my arms will salute them and their sisters as we complete the Motivation Mile. They always “run” the race with me and will be there with me again this year.

My daughter, Sydney, will have her name written with them too, with the hope that this will be the year a cure is found so that she will never have to face the fear of that diagnosis. Their names are written on my arms. Their lives and what they have meant to me are forever written on my heart.

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