Fierce Flyer - Allie Bigelow
Allie discovered running later in life after previous athletic endeavours, first as a competitive gymnast and later as a coxswain. From the time she started running in her twenties her "big dream" was to race as a masters runner; you've probably never seen a woman happier to turn 40! A long-time Volée team member, Allie hails from North Carolina and uses her mad organizational skills to corral our growing NC team. She's a master of injury recovery and can run 15 miles on a treadmill without complaining. Meet our fierce flyer.
Truth be told, I was never supposed to be a runner. First of all, while I adore my family, they were utterly un-athletic when I was a child. There was simply not a model of participation in fitness or competitive sport to be found in my house so it would’ve been very easy for me to have never become an athlete at all. My saving grace came when I was 3 years old, watching Nadia Comaneci compete in the 1976 Olympics on our teeny tiny color TV. All at once in my sprightly little mind my fate was sealed: I was going to be a gymnast! Gymnastics turned out to be a perfect fit for me: I was very small, I had loads of excess energy just waiting to be used up by flipping and spinning for hours on end, and I had absolutely zero hand-eye coordination, so ball sports were a bust.
My love affair with gymnastics ended at age 13 and my 10 years in the sport left me with such severe knee pain that I was told that I would never do another weight-bearing activity. Strike two against running. Nonetheless I spent much of high school meandering stubbornly through short-lived stints playing field hockey, tennis, lacrosse and ice hockey. But finally I found my way to crew (a.k.a. rowing). From the first moment I sat in a crew shell I felt like I had found my athletic calling (again). Here was a job made expressly for small, energetic, loud people! I quickly learned that being a coxswain actually had less to do with being able to yell loudly and more to do with an ability to be a motivator, coach, pilot, strategist and mother hen, all of which I also was. It was, yet again, a perfect fit.
I spent the next 10 years immersed in crew. I coxed through high school and college, one season a year at first, then all three and through most of the summers between. At first I never thought about coxing having athletic requirements but very quickly I realized that as the only member of the boat who did not physically contribute to the motion of the boat it was critical to me that my rowers not see me as a short girl with a Napoleonic complex but as a teammate deserving of respect and equal standing in the boat. I wanted to motivate them, not boss them! As a part of my efforts to earn that respect I started to do much of their physical training alongside them: I went to the weight room 3 times a week, rowed on the rowing machine, ran flights and flights of stairs…I did it all. Except the running. Because of my knees, every morning when the team ran down to the boathouse in the pitch dark I simply whizzed by in my ancient Saab. But I finally found a doctor who told me that running was not, in fact, out of the question for me. Per his instructions I diligently spent months strengthening my legs before attempting my first run…and then I never looked back. From the very first 2 miler, running was my third perfect fit.
That first run was over 20 years ago now. Ironically, by the time I returned to school in the fall the rules had changed and my rowers were no longer allowed to run to the boathouse in the dark. But by that point I was hooked. Hooked on the routine of running, the calm that a solo early morning run brings, the sense of accomplishment of running farther or faster or more effortlessly than before. For the first few years I ran recreationally, sporadically and mostly alone, but over the years as my life has grown and changed my running has changed along with me. I have become a racer, discovering the magic of not just road racing but also cross country and track. I have had the privilege of training and pacing good friends to their first half-marathon finishes and first BQ’s. And I have had enough blissful, effortless runs to keep my love for the sheer act of running alive for years to come. Twenty-three years in I’m still enchanted with the sport.
But even with all this passion for the sport in its many incarnations, I have sometimes felt like a bit of an island. Injuries have been lonely and many of my running friends really haven’t understood my rabid enthusiasm for professional racing. So you can imagine my delight when in 2012 I happened upon Oiselle and the Volée! If there are three things I love more than anything (aside from motherhood) they are gatherings of strong women, running and good design. And here was a team that combined all three! My favorite quality of the Volée is easily the fact that we are a team that celebrates the accomplishments of ALL women, not just the fastest. I have always had huge respect for runners of all levels, whether they are pros who dedicate their lives to achieving at the highest levels of the sport or runners who shoehorn their training into busy lives, setting goals that may never win them Olympic gold or a national championship but that require perseverance, dedication and a little bit of craziness all the same. We are all on the same journey with our running and ALL of our stories are extraordinary and inspiring in their own right. It has been phenomenal for me to find a community that is built upon this sentiment.
When the opportunity to volunteer as Team Leader for our regional North Carolina group presented itself last year I jumped at the chance as it meant I could basically be the team coxswain. Over the course of the past 18 months our group has worked very consciously to grow as a unified team, making it a priority to get to know one another, providing monthly opportunities to get together, celebrating birthdays, graduations, Olympic Trials qualifiers and just becoming friends. Building and maintaining these relationships is no small feat: my teammates have routinely driven up to 2+ hours for monthly meetups, brought their kids to events when sitters cancelled and even done battle with airlines in order to make it home in time to jump into a slot at a team marathon relay.
Being a team takes work sometimes but I am sure I speak for all of the women of #oiselleteamnc when I say that the effort has been worthwhile. While we are incredibly diverse in terms of age, background, education and beliefs the effort we have put into building our team has allowed us to become close friends, advisors, supporters and cheerleaders. For me personally, the team (both the NC ladies and the extended team) has been an absolutely vital source of support, humor and even tough love as I have struggled with both the pendulum of injury and pretty high level masters competition over the past few years while also dealing with some major upheaval in my non-running life. I am incredibly grateful to know that I have such a strong group of women behind me, supporting me and cheering me on, whether it is to a national masters medal or just through yet another day of injury-induced cross training. The opportunity to receive, and even more to give, such support and experience this level of camaraderie at this stage in my life has been unexpected and has given me much more than I ever could have imagined. This team truly has my heart; it’s a perfect fit.