Rebirth: The New Normal

Written by Gaylon Alcaraz. Posted in Running/Walking/Hiking

Ms Fit Mag Black Girls Run

Black Girls Run Helps an Unlikely Runner Find Her Stride

After being on this earth 40 plus years, I was born again in April 2012.

It was an accident, like all born again stories are. I didn’t set out to become a new person, but when I experienced the “come to Jesus” moment out on the Chicago lakefront one cold and brisk morning, there was no turning back.

For the two-plus miles from North Avenue to almost Navy Pier, my heart felt as though it was going to jump out of my chest. I really thought I was going to die; no, actually, I felt like I was dying. My breathing was labored and intense. I gasped for air and my face flushed hotter with each step. I kept a smile on the outside but in my head, I was screaming for my life.

My cousin, Dorian, was right beside me looking all normal, like she didn’t have a care in the world. I, on the other hand, was near death! I watched all the other black women running past and I wanted to be where they were. Only one slight problem: I had never done this before so clearly I wasn’t prepared.

rbs2_49I don’t remember exactly when I looked at the Black Girls Run (BGR) Facebook page. Maybe I saw a status update in Dorian’s newsfeed. But the next thing I knew, she was inviting me to the BGR anniversary run. A simple 5k, she explained. Even asking me was a stretch. I mean, come on, yes I had been on Weight Watchers since July 2011 and lost a lot of weight – but a runner? Was she kidding me? Still, this Black Girls Run intrigued me. Black Girls Run is a national running group created in 2009 by Toni Carey and Ashley Hicks to encourage African-American women to live a healthy and active lifestyle. The organization has grown to include more than 60 running groups across the nation with more than 52,000 members. There are chapters in nearly every city. Within each city are neighborhood groups lead by women like me who want to change their lives for the better.

What I didn’t realize is how important BGR would become in my life. I have found a sense of belonging running with women who look like me: body shapes, sizes and all. We have our ups and downs but we encourage one another, never leave anyone behind, and stay positive. BGR is a place and space where women of color can focus on their health in a team spirit. We train together, run races together, and form friendships. It has saved my life.

“I’m not a runner,” I told Dorian. Like the love of any family member who happens to be a runner, she said she would run when I ran and walk when I walked. Funny thing happened on my way to life: I didn’t really feel hesitant after that, and simply agreed. I was at a point where I was living life out loud and trying new things. Who knew what to expect, but I went into the experience with an open heart and mind. I will do this with her and that will be it, I thought.

In order to fully appreciate this experience, you must know my story. I began my life as a chunky baby, child and teen. I was never small, even in my smallest days. I wasn’t obese, but I was a little Gordita. My thighs rubbed together, my stomach bellowed out of my clothes and I constantly heard, “you have such a cute face.” Was it my fault that my maternal family ate soul food and churned out sweet baked cakes and pies like we owned a bakery? It was nothing for my mother to make big pans of rice pudding just because. My grandma and great aunt didn’t make it much better. From sweet potato pies to bread pudding to pound cakes, I was always in heaven. My paternal familia ate the typical Mexican fare. From beans and rice and tamales, you name it, we ate it. Mi abuelo even hid cookies in his closet that he would give to us if we wouldn’t tell our Big Ma. When I say fat was in my genes, I mean that literally. It seemed as though all of us were destined for fatness.

Then, the unthinkable happened, rocking the rest of my childhood and high school years to the core: my father was killed by a drunk driver only days before Christmas. My emotional eating began around this time. Now, let me tell you up front–we weren’t some big happy family. My parents had a dysfunctional love affair that started when my mom was 9 years old and my father was 13. On my mother’s prom night she became pregnant with me. On top of all this, my dad ran off and married someone else. I don’t remember my mom ever being truly happy, and a lot of that depression rubbed off on me. I was quiet in school and lonely outside of it. I went through high school depressed and angry, all the time: angry at my dead father and angry at my always-sad mother.

Fast forward light years into the future and you have me on diets, weight yo-yoing up and down, birthing babies, having abortions, surviving domestic violence and trying to survive in a world that was cruel to fat women of color–and don’t you be poor and fat. Boy what a combination! But instead of spiraling into an abyss of shame, guilt and sadness, I started swimming, even though I deathly afraid of water. Working with therapists, I began the slow climb to the top. Even when my weight got to 300lbs, I wasn’t ready to give up on me. I wanted to break the family chain of unhappy. I wanted to do something different. I wanted to live life.

Then BGR came along and I haven’t been the same since. I have become that crazy person I used to gawk at, running on the lake in any kind of weather. I never dreamed that I would become a person that missed running when I couldn’t run. Or that I would be running races, traveling to other states in the quest for medals or training for my first half marathon in February 2013.  Who knew? My life is no longer about pacifying myself with emotional eating. Now when I’m stressed, I run or do some other physical activity that perfects my running experience—I hate weight training but yeah you guessed it, I’m doing it. My new normal is trying to PR (personal best record) and beat my time from the previous race. My new normal is running with the Morgan Park Moon Crew (we named ourselves because we run at 5am when the moon is still often out).

Chicago Perfect Ten Dance Nov 10

My new normal is sticking to my Weight Watchers program so that I can be lighter, thus adding swiftness to my running. I decided I needed accountability with weekly check-ins. I needed to connect with others that shared my struggle. With every bit of encouragement I feel stronger and stronger. It wasn’t always like this; I’ve had my ups and downs in my fitness battle, but I refuse to give up. The more sure I am of this journey and my place in this world as a woman, activist and feminist, the easier it has become. I have run many miles since April 2012, and amassed many medals and many runner injuries. But I feel good. I feel powerful and I feel in control. This is my new normal. This is my rebirth. This is why I run.

For more info on Black Girls Run, see our interview with co-founder Toni Carey.

Like this story? To date, Ms. Fit Mag has published more than 100 original stories on a wide range of subjects from feminist pregnancy and childcare; to body-positive fitness; to recipes, reviews, and D.I.Y.; to personal essays and practical tips and advice about wellness and healthy-living from a distinctly feminist perspective. Help us continue publishing great stories like this one by making a donation to our year-end funding drive. Your donation of $5 or more will help keep us publishing in 2014.  Thank you!

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Gaylon Alcaraz

Gaylon Alcaraz

Gaylon B. Alcaraz is an activist, organizer and Executive Director of the Chicago Abortion Fund, working within the reproductive justice/rights/health movement to advocate for low-income women seeking to control their reproductive freedom. For more than ten years, she has worked on behalf of sexual minority women, anti-violence, gender equity, health prevention, reproductive rights, as well as race and culture issues.

Comments (19)

  • Shirley

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    Gaylon, Great testimony!!! Like you, BGR! has been so good for me mentally, physically and spiritually. I really enjoyed reading this article. Thanx for sharing your story!

    Reply

  • Stephanie

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    Beautiful story – Thanks for sharing!

    Reply

  • Dionne

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    Love your journey my Sole Sistah you inspire me

    Reply

  • Keisha

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    This is a wonderful article! I count it a privilege that you would share your life’s journey with us! BGR rocks!

    Reply

  • Dorian

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    I loved this article Gaylon! You have come a long way and this is only the beginning for you! Congrats on your first half marathon, I told you you’ll be running a half in no time. I know you didn’t believe me but I saw your motivation to do better. Now that I am no long in Chicago, I would love to continue to read about your journey and progress. Keep up the good work! Love you

    Reply

  • searah

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    Great piece Gaylon! Thanks for sharing your story!

    Reply

  • Nikki Sterling

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    Three cheers for Gaylon! What an empowering and emotional story. God is by your side, and we, BGR Chicago ladies, are your “wing sisters!” We love you and couldn’t be more proud of your dedication and commitment to a healthier, happier you!

    Reply

  • Cat How

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    Sharing my running experience with Gaylon has been truly uplifting. Her determination has encouraged many people to get up and do something about their health. The BGR page has always given me inspiration by reading about the many accomplishments and “Come to Jesus moments” from the Sistah’s of the BGR Clan. The Morgan Park Moon Crew, all being BGR Sistah’s, are the Sistah’s that live in my area and we seem to always keep tabs on one another and that is something that women of color never talk about. Gaylon encourage me to check out the BGR site and I did my 1st 5k in June of last year and I have been running and improving my health every since then.In my opinion, BGR is about encouraging Sistah’s of color to break the cycle of poor health and poor self-esteem and to take charge of our lives to cause a viral affect of creating a new and improved Women of Color.– Thats my peace! Go Gaylon!

    Reply

  • Shalanda Lang

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    This was a very inspirational story to read. Just reading about her struggles in life with the loss of a love one, abusive relationship and weight loss issues I so relate. Gaylord has truly motivated me that thru all of the dark times you will eventually see the light. Keep up the good work and I look forward to reading more of your stories.

    Reply

  • Myia Thompson

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    What an inspiring story! I love it! An recurring theme I learned from your journey: NEVER GIVE UP!

    Reply

  • Kathleen Spayer

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    This article is bold, brave and inspiring. I am not a woman of color, but I am a woman—A woman with dysfunction, heartache, class discrimination, abuse and emotional eating in my history. I am also a woman who is intimidated by the thought of running. Ms. Alcaraz’s story is full of motivation and hope for women of all colors and shapes.

    Reply

  • Erica D. Sanders-Hurst

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    This is THE BEST read I’ve read in quite some time. Biggest Congrats Gaylon! Your story is an inspiration… You are my SHERO!

    Reply

  • Stephanie C. Williams

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    Excellent article! May others begin the process of rebirth after reading this article…. Congrats for the courage to tell your story…

    Reply

  • Elisha Pendleton

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    I am in tears headed to work…beautiful!!!! That was also my first run.. and at that time i did not call myself a runner… I was running in memory of my father who had passed away in Feb. I am so glad we started this adventure!!!!

    Reply

  • LaShawn

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    The new normal…OUTSTANDING article. I so appreciate the writer who reveals her personal journey to help motivate others. JOB WELL DONE!

    Reply

  • Lakeesha Harris

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    Gaylon, you are a power house and example of the myriad of ways in which Black girls can not only run, but take back control of their bodies. What a shining example you are of positive black body politics. Keep pushing on!

    Reply

  • Danielle

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    Thanks Gaylon for sharing your inspiring story! Like you, I’m an unlikely runner. But with the support of BGR, DailyMile, my local run club, and my running peeps, I’ve found joy in running and pride in myself. Keep up your hard work on and keep on inspiring us!

    Reply

  • Starr

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    This is an amazing testimony & encouraging glimpse of the courage and determination it takes to overcome emotional eating & obesity. Thanks for sharing your journey… Run, girl, run!

    Reply

  • valerie smith

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    What a wonderful story . As a woman of color I identified with her story, regarding her battle with her weight and those things that contributed to her weight gain .

    Reply

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