May 2019 - ATHLETE PROFILE
By Kristen Hislop
Hometown: Born in Queens, but raised in Ghana, West Africa
Family: Husband, Eric; Kids, Jeremiah (8) and twins Gabrielle and Josiah (6)
Occupation: Masters level Substance Abuse Social Worker
Favorite Quote: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Bible verse, Philippians 4:13)
If you ask a woman why she doesn’t exercise you’ll likely hear one or more of the following: I don’t have time; It’s boring; I don’t want to go alone; I need to take care of my kids; or I have X ailment. Six years ago, Olivia was stressed with work, had just given birth to twins, and knew she needed to lose the baby weight. At a postnatal checkup, she was told her blood pressure was high and she needed to consider medications.
Olivia’s Ghanian heritage meant she was more likely to be diagnosed with hypertension. According to the Office of Minority Health, 44% of African American women have high blood pressure and/or are taking medications. Both her parents were on medication and Olivia knew that the baby weight from her first born, and the twins that followed 18 months later were a contributing factor. She ditched the easy excuses and decided she was going to take action to reduce her blood pressure and stay off medications. She drew on her faith and signed up for the Freihofer’s Run for Women 5K Training Challenge. Participants generally arrive as beginners like Olivia or as seasoned runners who want to get faster.
In spring 2013 Olivia signed up, showed up, then kept showing up even though she had her share of naysayers. Pushing aside the doubters and focusing on the praise from others, she headed back to her doctor a month later with normal blood pressure numbers. Running led to more weight loss and new sense of peaceful spirit. “Balancing a full-time job, as well as being a mother and wife to a young family was not an easy task, but running alleviated stress and gave me the opportunity to take time out for myself.”
She didn’t want to do it alone, so Olivia brought her ‘social butterfly’ personality – as her Mom and teachers affectionally called it – to the Training Challenge. Her uplifting spirit rallied the other women during the tough workouts, often motivating them with song to keep the group moving.
Next thing you know I get a text, “What are your thoughts on a full marathon for later on this year? I’m really thinking of Philly in late November. But not sure if it’s too much, too soon, especially as I originally wanted NYC 2015 to be my first full! Any feedback would be great!” I replied, “You have enough time to train for a Philly. How are you feeling on the 10-mile distance now? I would say wait until after finishing the half marathon, and then let’s talk about it. It takes a number of long runs to get there and be comfortable. You want to pad in enough time so that you have a life too! Definitely doable though!”
Olivia says, “I completed the Freihofer’s Training Challenge and my life was changed forever.” That is no exaggeration. “After completing my first 5K at the 2013 Freihofer’s Run for Women, I was hooked, continued running, and upgraded to the 10K that fall at the Troy Turkey Trot. Then decided in 2014 I would complete half marathons. I was successfully able to complete four half marathons, as well as well as tossed around the idea of completing a full the following year.”
The 2015 NYC Marathon was the first, followed by Chicago, another NYC, Berlin and the Marine Corp! How do you go from running just to catch a bus growing up in New York City to completing three of the six Marathon World Majors? One step at a time, with support from her family and faith in God, she continues to break barriers.
In 2014 Olivia went down to NYC to participate in the NYRR 9+1 program. Members race nine events and volunteer at one, then are guaranteed entry to the NYC Marathon. As she participated in the races, she met members of Black Girls RUN! BGR wants to encourage African-American women to make fitness and healthy living a priority. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 80% of African-American women are overweight. BGR is creating a movement to lower that percentage and lower the number of women with chronic diseases associated with an unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyle. As a disclaimer, all are welcome whether you’re black, white, purple or pink.
After falling in love with the group and their movement, she set out to bring Black Girls RUN! to Albany. As the lead ambassador, she now has 600 women in the local chapter! Olivia notes, “I have seen women, who just like me never ran before, put on their sneakers to change their lives and get fit. I have seen transformations similar to mine from a first 5K to the first half marathon. We have quite a few women signed up to do the Freihofer’s Run for Women. It’s also the BGR Albany anniversary race, so we absolutely love celebrating with such an amazing epic run that has so much awesome history.
Since 2016 when we started as a group with the Freihofer’s Run, we have had over 30 women join in on the fun, and each year that number grows. It’s amazing to see that just as Freihofer’s was my very first race ever, so has it been for quite a large number of my BGR members, which is AMAZING! It’s such a special race for so many reasons.” Sheraqua Woodard adds about Olivia, “I’m inspired by her tireless effort on how she implements a balance between family and her physical health. Her energy is contagious!”
Wait, remember that many women use time as an excuse for not exercising? Yet here is a busy working mom of three who can train for marathons and bring running to 600 women! But Olivia doesn’t stop there. A singer since childhood she has performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Freihofer’s, Troy Turkey Trot, and Veterans Day Dash. Taking a year off from marathons allowed her to get certified as an AfroBeats and Zumba instructor. I’m not sure we can say she has slowed her running at all without marathon training, as Olivia was just profiled in Runner’s World for her over 525 day running streak – at least one-mile every day.
Next up, “My daughter has become smitten with running and so I look forward to running with her as she does some local 5Ks this summer. My sons are also very excited about running and all three will be doing the Freihofer’s Kids’ Run races on June 1. The NYC Marathon is on the table for 2020. In the meantime, Olivia will keep spreading the love of running, “I am not sure what else is in store for me, but I have strong faith and know I will definitely be moving forward with God’s help, so it will be EPIC and AMAZING!”
Anyone who has spent a moment around Olivia would agree – it will be epic and amazing. When you’re running the Freihofer’s Run for Women or cheering on your favorite runner, listen for the woman who is cheering everyone else along – maybe in song or just an inspirational, ‘You can do this all day!’ Fellow Black Girls RUN! athlete, Lisa Nixon raves that Olivia is “Always there for all of us, no women get left behind. She always tells me ‘you can do it. You have to believe you can.’” Great advice any runner can use.
Kristen Hislop (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Clifton Park is a certified multisport coach who wants everyone to ‘Do, Believe and Achieve.’