A longtime running hero of mine doesn’t run. She walks. At a fast clip. She’s a middle-aged Hasidic woman, and I see her on mornings when my jog takes me onto Kent Avenue, a popular running route in my neighborhood. Usually I’m northbound in the bike lane with the stroller and she’s southbound on the opposite sidewalk, puffing along in traditional garb that shows little skin and involves absolutely no Lycra or neon colors, covered up even on hottest days. We always wave and smile.
She’s not fast like Jenny Simpson, who just notched her record sixth Fifth Avenue Mile victory (in 4:16). She isn’t an amazing endurance athlete such as 42-year-old Darcy Piceau, who just set a Fastest Known Time for the 222-mile John Muir Trail in California (3 days, 7 hours, and change). The reason she is a hero to me is that she gets out there against the odds, defying whatever obstacles are in her path. I suspect most in her family, neighbors, and community are not especially supportive of her making the time for daily exercise. That may be putting it mildly.
To find out more about what she might be up against I asked a friend who grew up in a conservative Hasidic home. She says there are no official rules and regulations about exercising within the community, but in the house where she was raised, women weren’t allowed to do any sort of exercise. Females in less conservative Hasidic families are allowed to do the occasional brisk walk, or women’s-only classes in gym. The main concern with any sort of exercise regimen is not to attract attention from men. So women have to wear their full garb no matter the weather (long dresses, closed neck long sleeve shirts, stockings, and hair covering).
The other issue for her is that Hasidic women are brought up not to care about body image. Isn’t that why most people work out, beside health reasons? So with an Hasidic women who does workout, some in her community may feel she’s flying a red flag that she might be going against her beliefs.
I say more power to her. And I also say thanks for the dose of inspiration she gives me without knowing it. More than once I’ve hesitated about going out and then thought, Well, if she’s doing it, I’ve sure as hell got no excuse.