Local women stay connected by running together

May 31, 2012

By Sarah Gerdes

Twenty-four years ago, Newcastle resident Vivian Page moved from Guatemala to the United States.

Within a few years, she found herself in the middle of a remodel, raising two young girls and juggling a demanding career. She was lonely and depressed.

“Looking back even after all these years, I still feel that it was the lowest point in my life,” she said.

In desperation, she knelt down and prayed to God that he would send her a friend, she said.

Contributed Jennifer Gutierrez and Vivian Page at the start of a Lake Sammamish Triathlon.

“Just a friend that I could talk to, or even just have something in common,” she said.

As she waited for the answer to her prayers, she started exercising to videotapes at 5 a.m.

When a friend became pregnant, Page reluctantly traded her workout videos for walking. It wasn’t long before she felt a slow but meaningful change in her attitude and she decided to keep at it. For her 40 birthday, she decided to set her sights on a Sprint Triathlon.

The event was a success.

“I could almost run a 5K and swim 400 yards without stopping,” Page said.

Later that year, she ran a 10K and participated in the Kent Christmas run. As her energy and enthusiasm for life returned, she mentioned it to women at her church, who joined in.

“We’d start with two miles around the neighborhood at 5 a.m.,” Page said.

Word spread, and Page was introduced to Jennifer Gutierrez, another transplant to the Northwest.

“We became running partners, then exercise partners, then friends,” she said. “I eventually realized she was the answer to my prayer.”

As the two added swimming to their routine of running, Page was humbled.

“Before I met Jennifer, I thought I could swim,” she said. “After swimming with her, I realized that all I knew was how not to drown.”


A special outlet

Page said she believes exercise is a special outlet for expatriates, especially women who juggle multiple roles in their lives.

“Finding someone to relate to is very hard,” she confided. “It’s in the nature of women to talk, and there is this great sense of relief when you have the opportunity to share your thoughts and feelings.”

Like Page, Gutierrez turned to running when she was at a low point in her life. One of her sons was in and out of then-Seattle Children’s Hospital and she had become overwhelmed. When a friend from their congregation at the Somerset Ward suggested a triathlon, Gutierrez, a physical therapist, initially resisted.

“I used to volunteer at the Boston Marathon when I attended Boston College,” Gutierrez said. “I swore I’d never do that.”

Even so, she found a “couch-to-5K’ program online and decided to try it out.

It was a slow start. The first week, she could only run for three minutes. Page invited her to run two days a week and later that summer Gutierrez participated in her first sprint triathlon.

Soon she was up with the other members from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, running at 5 a.m. three days a week. Gutierrez was so enthusiastic, she convinced her entire family — including her husband, brother and sister, their spouses and even her parents — to run the Seattle Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon. Within the year, she completed the St. George marathon that qualified her for the Boston Marathon. After a successful race, she added the Ironman Triathlon to her list of accomplishments.

Gutierrez said she finds the entire process amazing.

“I was the one who hated running, the one who finished my first sprint triathlon on a borrowed bike and no wetsuit,” she said, adding that her biggest joy is showing her children that “if you want to accomplish something, even if it seems difficult, you can.”


Everyone is welcome

Maria Eugenia Bravo de Montiel is also a new to the Northwest, and joined the running group after hearing about it from others.

Unlike Page and Gutierrez, Montiel, the mother of four boys, had been physically active her whole life. She studied dance at the prestigious National Institute of Bellas Arts in Mexico City and after attaining a degree in fashion, worked as a designer before having children. What she couldn’t do was get up at 5 in the morning.

“My husband got me a gym membership,” she said, adding that it took her “a long time to be able to run three miles without feeling I was dying.”

Like her friends, she runs two to four times a week, swims several times, and also incorporates yoga and conditioning training four times.

“I teach Zumba four times a week now, but when I started, my body had been neglected for years,” she said. “The first 3-mile run with Jenn and Vivian were the longest and most tiring miles I had ever run.”

The three women now run, swim and support one another in races, encouraging others to join their group.


Age is just a number

All three women, who range from their mid-30s to their 40s, believe physical health is tied with mental and emotional well-being, and that “age is just a number,” Montiel said.

The message resonates with many, and the women’s running group, while started through church connections, is inclusive of anyone who wants to come.

“Almost all my close friends are those I have met while I’m running, and a mutual activity allows me to have special time to connect, to live and learn from them,” Page said.

Montiel echoes the sentiment.

Gutierrez empathizes with those reluctant to get up early and start a new program, acknowledging it can be intimidating, not to mention tiring. Yet she has gained benefits beyond physical health.

“It is not only a great way to start the day, but for me, it’s my social, emotional, and often spiritual strengthening, as we talk about so many things as we run,” she said.

Above all, the women agree it’s never too late to start exercising.

“I believe the sooner we start, the greater our health will be in our older years,” Page said.


How to start

  •  Find a partner.
  • Create a schedule that works for work.
  • Start slowly and have realistic expectations.
  • Join a group. Groups have more runners to pull from, different schedules and they rotate training efforts. Mixing up the training schedule can be good for conditioning.
  •  Set a goal. It might be a short 3K, a triathalon or running a mile instead of walking.


Sarah Gerdes is a freelance writer. Comment at www.newcastle-news.com.



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