Women Who Move: Yolanda Cooper

"For me, it’s not about finish time, but the overall experience."

I enjoyed running when I was young, but like so many other women, marriage, children and work made it challenging to find time for fitness. At the age of 42, I set a goal of getting myself back in shape. I tried running again for the first time in years. I remember my first workout with great clarity. I ran a few blocks around my neighborhood and was exhausted. I must have stopped to rest 100 times. At first I was sad that I had allowed myself to get so unfit, but I vowed to keep at it. I remembered that I ran the mile in 5:52 in the fifth grade—now I just wanted to run one mile without stopping.

Soon thereafter, with little training, I participated in my first 5k to help a friend grieve the loss of a family member. It was a bitterly cold day and my will was tested. I could hear every step I took click in my ear; my lungs felt like they wanted to explode. I gritted through each mile as though I were running an ultramarathon. While my 5k time wasn’t pretty, crossing the finish line was incredibly encouraging.

Since that day, I have come to love running. It has become “me time.” I set speed and distance goals, but if I feel like stopping for a few seconds, I do. I often listen to an audio book while I run and when I am feeling fatigued, I kick into high gear with an up-tempo song or two.

Today, I have completed a number of races from 5ks to half marathons. My next scheduled run is the Philadelphia Marathon— my first! The most rewarding races for me have been ones where I’ve been able to assist injured runners or offer encouragement to others. For me, it’s not about finish time, but the overall experience.

Every run has been personally fulfilling. Now my family calls me the “Race Angel.” When I come back from a workout or a race they ask me, “What adventure did you have on your run today?” I always have a story to tell.

While I may never get back to that 5:52 mile, I have found my zone. I no longer count my footsteps when I race; I run in anticipation of the adventure, looking to see who could use a little of this Race Angel’s help.