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Walking Across Lines of Difference

One of the perks of living a slower-lifestyle is that there is space for random conversations. One such casual conversation happened the other day while I was running (cough *walking* cough) errands with a sister I'm familiar with. We started chatting and she shared how she was under immense stress, and this stress was triggering "weight gain and depression."

I asked her about self-care - God, nature, activity, a community (a listening ear)? And she said something that I never thought about:

"Girl, I'd love to be more active. Right now my son and I sit in the house all evening. But none of my friends workout and I need accountability, consistency, and someone I can trust. And I can't do any sign-up groups right now." 

I got it. "Do most of your friends like to work out?" she asked. I thought about it, "Yes, a lot of my friends workout." But I do not workout with most of my friends. I went on to explain that a workout partner didn't have to be your best friend and your best friend didn't have to be your workout partner.

But along with a consistent outdoor mate comes a relationship that is deep, intimate, and full of the things that she needed. There is a depth, a special connection that happens when you sweat beside someone. And we all know that nature brings us together. 

That's why I believe the easiest place to incorporate diversity - race, culture, religion, gender, able-bodied, age, guardianship - is as a workout buddy or an outdoor's partner.

My suggestions for (her) finding a workout partner: 

1. Look outside of your friendship group

2. Consider a group or search engine - I'd tell her to join a group (JoggingBuddy, Afro Outdoors, Black Girls Run, RunnersWorld, NikePlus, or Google meet up)

3.  Look for folks who are already walking. A neighbor/coworker that already has a practice - could she tag along? 

4. Look for someone who lives close. You don't want to be jammed up, but you also don't want to hold up others. 

5. Don't be afraid of diversity. I understand where differences in "hang out" friends can be tough to navigate. "I went to the house party and was the only -------- there," or "We have different ideas on what constitutes as good food." But in a walking buddy, the extras are eliminated. All that matters initially is whether your schedule aligns enough to be consistent. Once you're consistent, and on the same page, you will get into a flow. And you can talk as much or as little as you both desire.

Most of my workout friends have not shared cultural or racial identities with me. We operated and communicated across lines of difference.

6. Be open. Once you get your practice and you're steady, you may have another friend that wants to join because of your consistency and dedication - be okay with that person participating when they can. 

7. Realize that once you have your flow you may have solo seasons. What and who you need will change throughout the seasons.  


My workout partners

All this talk about workout partners brings me to gratitude for the diverse folks that shared nature, sweat, a good conversation, and a cry/laugh with me throughout the years. 

Elementary: My first workout partner and trainer was my mom. We'd primarily run and walk at local parks. 

Middle school - High school: I formed a business where I'd walk with younger girls. We'd walk, talk, look at nature, and breathe. When I needed a harder run, a white girl lived around the corner. We primarily talked about boys but would gossip a bit. We rarely hung out outside of our 2-3x/week walk/jogs.

Oxford, Ohio: In college, my first workout buddy was my Jewish neighbor (she's still a dear friend). We'd walk to the gym together, workout separately, and then grab food or a treat. Our favorite was frozen yogurt with a waffle or a "low-fat" brownie (don't ask). We labeled ourselves Swirl. I later joined a sorority and took up working out with my Nigerian "line" sister (my sands)/dear friend. It was a fun year - we'd walk/go to the gym/take an exercise class before showing up late to sorority meetings. We laughed at everything. We spent so much time together because of the demanding schedule of the sorority and our own workout schedule that we had an inside joke about everything. We were like Key and Peele. She was a senior, and I was a junior - I probably cried when she graduated.

My senior year was crazy, and my stress levels were high, so I ran outside alone. I'd still meet up with Swirl for gym appointments, but that was our only time. Boy, we would spread that time out - discussing sorority life, our romantic lives, politics, parents, and all the emotions.

New York City: Teach For America 2006, I took long walks around Spanish Harlem with my roommates: an east-Asian woman from New Jersey and a white woman from California. It was our time for bonding. We all had very separate lives, but our walks were our time to debrief on our days, explore our new city, try our neighborhood delicacies, reflect on our past lives and share our dreams.

Brooklyn: Mike and I got married, so I moved to BK and ran with my girlfriends from work. The teachers had a running team. We were a diverse crew (we worked at an International Studies school in Chinatown) comprised of Asian, Asian Pacific, White, Puerto Rican/Jewish, Arabic, and Jamaican backgrounds, and there were our men who joined sometimes. We'd run around Chinatown & by the piers, running our mouths about our students, lesson plans, dreams of balance, check our privilege, and local happy hours/cafes/dumpling spots.

 At the same time, I also walked two- five miles from work or the train to home. This was when I recognized the stress-relieving qualities of a walk.

For about four years (Brooklyn, DC, Brooklyn again), Mike is my only workout partner. Most of my workouts, however, are primarily solo. 

Jersey City: A Jewish neighbor with a little boy, Neiko's age, was my partner. We would walk outside for hours and discuss political issues, motherhood, working, and journalism. 

One of my favorite workout years was when I became a recruiter and worked from home. I attended workout classes solo but would take the train into Manhattan on Monday nights. There I would join my cousin Ashley at her workout class. So many friends would meet us there each week. The class looked like Skittles - we were Middle Eastern, white, black, LatinX, Asian, Asian Pacific, handicapped, single, married, LGBTQIA, straight, etc. - and the swag and sweat were outrageous. After class, we would wander around the city (in the cold), laughing loudly and debating what "treat" we would indulge in. It was a magical period of time.

Then we move to Philly, where I walked/ran/hit the trails with my white neighbor. She was a Philly transplant as well. We never hung out outside of our walks, but at least twice a week, we saw one another and talked deeply. She got me outside during my (sickly) pregnancy with my second child, Noah. 

In Cincinnati, my workout partners ranged between my Arabian neighbor, my mom, my sister Renny, and one of my best-friends, Lo. In Georgia, I spend time outdoors solo or with my boys. As a special treat I'll have a friend or my mom join my walk or hike. I sometimes even call a girlfriend and run during our conversation.

Many blessings on finding an outdoor's partner!


Shelby S

Edited by Ashley Yancey


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