In "Run Like a Girl: How Strong Women Make Happy Lives," author Mina Samuels uses personal stories of women and girls of all ages and backgrounds, and her own story, to take a broad look at the power sports — whether it’s running or rock climbing, swimming or yoga — have to help woman face, and to overcome, obstacles in all arenas of life. Read an excerpt:
“People don’t come preassembled, but are glued together by life.” — Joseph LeDoux, neuroscientist
This book is about women, sports, and happiness. How the confidence women build in sports translates into the rest of their lives. How the challenges they face by participating in a sport, and the way they meet those challenges, translates into greater strength and the ability to overcome the obstacles in their lives outside of sports; and how their achievements in sports translate into happy lives.
This is a book about the courage it takes to challenge ourselves in how we live our lives. In the words of French philosopher and writer, Andre Gide, “[Wo]man cannot discover new oceans unless [s]he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” This is a book about many, many women who have lost sight of the shore, and found it again.
So who am I to write this book? I'm all of you, an “ordinary” woman who finds her inspiration in the stories of how other ordinary women face this ultimate challenge we call life, and perform the extraordinary feat of making it special. This is a book about women inspiring each other. Breathing in, inspiring, each other’s stories. I am the lucky scribe, recording the countless stories I’ve been privy to over the past months as I prepared to write this book.
Of course, I have my own story to add to the mix. I discovered serious running at age twenty-seven and now participate in road races, marathons, and triathlons. I also hike, kayak, climb, do yoga, cross-country ski, and snowshoe; and as many other things as I can that get me outside in the fresh air, sun, rain, wind, and snow.
Over the years that followed my “discovery” of running, my self-confidence grew, and feeding off the accomplishments I achieved in sports — setting new personal bests, winning a little local race, surviving the setbacks of injuries and marathons gone wrong — I discovered a capacity within myself that I never knew I had. I wasn’t just physically stronger than I expected, I thought of myself as a different person, as someone with more potential, broader horizons, bigger possibilities. I saw that I could push myself and take risks, not just in sports, but elsewhere, too. The competition in sports, as in life, was not with someone else, it was with myself. To “compete” was to discover my own potential to do better, to hold my own self to a higher standard, to expect more of myself — and deliver.
As William James, the nineteenth-century American philosopher, said, “Human beings, by changing the inner beliefs of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.” More important than the athletic transformation I underwent was the fact that the rest of my life changed, too. I left the practice of law, charting a new course in my career — you are reading the fruit of that new career right now.
Maybe you are thinking, “What Mina just described doesn’t sound so ordinary.” True. And not true. Look at it this way: less than half of all Americans exercise regularly. If you cycle, or play tennis, or swim, or do yoga three or four times a week, you’re not “ordinary.” Of course, even if you don’t do any activities with regularity, chances are there is some other aspect of your life in which you are not “ordinary” either, but as this is a book about the impact of sports on our lives, I’ll stick with that, though you may find that much of what you read here is as applicable to broader pursuits as sports.
Whether you are trying to improve your own personal best or beat a worthy competitor. If you set goals, if you challenge yourself in the sports you do (and in the other things you do) — even (probably, especially) if you sometimes don’t achieve what you set out to accomplish — you’re not ordinary.
So what do I mean when I call myself ordinary, or indeed, when I think of the many women whose stories you’ll read here as ordinary? I am not a professional athlete. Nor, indeed, are any of the women I interviewed, with a few obvious exceptions. When I meet a goal I’ve set in sports nothing outward changes in my life. I don’t get product endorsements or coaching contracts or high-paid speaking engagements. I fit my sports in around my work and other obligations. Sometimes staying committed to the sports is an enormous struggle and I think, “I can’t wait until I’m too old for this.” At other times it is pure bliss and I know that I will be doing some sport for as long as I’m here. So it is for most of us.
For more than a decade, for example, racing was important to me. It’s not anymore. I still race occasionally, but races are not the driving factor behind my sports, quite the contrary. I’ve discovered
I don’t need the races to motivate me and there are enough other aspects of my life where I get to be sweaty-palmed and racenervous, like writing this book and putting it out into the world for all of you to read.
I work hard. I succeed. I fail. I have finished last more than once in a race, and at other times I’ve had to drop out. I try again. Sports helped me to discover that I was capable of having bigger dreams. I didn’t just get fitter and faster; I changed my life. It wasn’t easy. It was better than easy — it was possible and rewarding.
I need inspiration from others to keep going. And that’s what this book is about — finding the inspiration to keep challenging ourselves to do better, in both our sports and our lives. I have found it in spades in all your stories.
It took a long time for me to build this writing life I wanted, and it’s still a work-in-progress, as are all our lives, but at each step of the way, the accomplishment I felt in my athletic life bubbled over into the rest of my life, giving me the patience, persistence, and strength I needed to forge the path I wanted.
I’m not alone in this experience. Here are the stories and experiences of women involved in sports at every level: recreational, amateur, and, in some cases, professional; and how their involvement in sports has changed their lives for the better. Here are the climbers, the backcountry skiers, the rowers, the runners, the yoginis, the cyclists, the swimmers, the skaters, the snowshoers, the mushers, and more.
One thing connects all of our stories: to be strong in body is to be strong in mind. A woman’s physical strength cannot help but become psychological strength. Strong women make happy lives.
From "Run Like a Girl: How Strong Women Make Happy Lives" by Mina Samuels. Copyright © 2011. Reprinted by permission of Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.