On March 9th, I sent an email to the ~1700 women on the Volée – sharing the podcast I did with Julian Hanlon, and asking for feedback on the team. What came back was a steady stream of thoughts, ideas, and (mostly) love. I am so grateful to the women who took the time to write me. Below are just a few of the excerpts. Too good not to share. Thank you again for being the strongest, most inspirational team of women we could ever hope for.
Hugs and high fives from Seattle. I can’t wait to see where we fly next!
“I joined in 2014. To tell you the truth, I didn’t feel like I belonged. I felt like a fraud wearing a singlet at a race. I was afraid people would say, “Why is SHE wearing a Oiselle singlet? She’s not fast!” But I wore it anyway, because I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself. But now, now I feel like I belong. I’m still not fast, and I still have my curves, but the clothes make me feel Bad Ass! And it’s not because of the cut or style but it’s because I know that I am powerful.”
“I'm a mother of three girls and a XC coach, so the empowerment of women in running resonates strongly with me. I also help lead our local MRTT and see the struggle it is for moms just to get dressed for a quick run. At a recent USATF Coaching Conference I went to, roughly 10% of the total attendees were women. We absolutely need more strong women to lead our athletes!”
“The Kara Goucher video was awesome! Sometimes I think video gets a message across and reaches more people than anything else - and in terms of marketing the ‘inclusive’ message your voice would come across really well in a mini-documentary - any plans?!!”
“I respect women who run and are mothers. But we’re not all mothers. I think the closest thing I can relate to is ‘feminine fierce,’ which seems broad but targeted at the same time. I think this could apply to transgendered women and women who arrive at being feminine and being fierce in different ways. Running requires courage, and we are all brave in our own ways.”
“I really appreciate the non-competitive atmosphere that the team provides, and how it's more about building up women runners and increasing confidence.”
“I would love to tackle the greater issues at hand in our sport, from the political activist perspective. I understand that our group is an amazing resource for helping with eating disorders, training problems, injury issues, etc., but I would love to see more being done within the group along the lines of radicalizing track and field. From a woman's perspective, I would like to see less inhibition about our bodies and more badassery. Like, let's all freaking get the o tattoo on our ass and take a picture. That sort of thing!“
“This team, this Volee is teaching me to think differently as a runner, and dare I say, athlete.”
“It is refreshing to hear the passion that you have in the company and the growth of where you want to take it. Many companies want to build a product but leave the community and the true essence of sport out of it. This is why I started following Oiselle long ago. It was great to see ladies out in the product, genuinely happy and ready to support each other. As an elite athlete, that is what I crave…to be happy and to have the support behind me…along with long throws:).”
“I love the challenge and controversy that Oiselle stirs up to benefit athletes. I love to hear the Haute Volee speak out against traditional running sponsorships, runners against doping, eating disorders, and coming back after childbirth. True, raw, powerful authenticity!”
“I would like to tell women ‘I hope you consider joining this amazing family of women. They love running, they love life, and when we stumble we have each other.”
“Your MOST important point was that you get out of this team is what you put into it. I cannot tell you how true these words are. You mentioned in the podcast that your vision was to have an independent and diverse community of people who love the sport, no matter at which level they participate. I truly believe that the NC Volée is an excellent model for this. We have a group of women at all levels of competition who treat each other's goals as important as the next. Erin Osment reached out to the team of women running the race yesterday to wish them luck and send her regrets for not being able to be there in person. Andie Cozzarelli literally threw her backpack to the side of the road to run the last three miles with a bird who is having a really tough day. After the race Andie congratulated me on my 2:15 half (a 12:50 PR!) with the same enthusiasm that I congratulated her on her OTQ or Trials appearance.”
“One of my initial thoughts when you solicited feedback was the concept that we cannot keep everyone happy all of the time. Clearly, you have had this same thought already as you addressed it in your podcast. I try to consciously choose the positive pathways, but it is hard not to notice that some people clearly have different expectations of the group.”
“Idea #1: I have many friends and family who are all-too-aware of my love for Oiselle and they could benefit from their own Volée fan t-shirts when lining race courses. Actually, Volée members could also wear these too when supporting teammates at events (cross country, track meets, Olympic Trials), because it seems like people are saving their singlets for racing.
Idea #2: Keep the team manifesto prominently visible. Every new member should receive a copy.
Idea #3: Too often find that when I invite someone (women, especially) to go for a run or ask how their race went, their response is a hesitant response along the lines of "I'm not that fast...." There's an unnecessary, implied comparison in here that always sticks in my craw. This team loves speed, but everyone's fast is different, and I'd like to see all of us do a better job supporting those women who are lacing up and getting out there and doing the work. I think as a team we do a pretty good job here, but we could do more. How to do this is a challenge. Maybe invite more middle of the pack or even back of the pack runners to guest author some blog entries? Getting to share their running journey might help them build the confidence they need to stop the negative self-talk.
Idea #4: Downloadable Oiselle cheer squad poster templates for race days. Because my penmanship has deteriorated greatly with age.”
“I love the non-judgmental and highly inspiring and encouraging nature of the entire organization from the top down. From management to the Haute Volee, everyone is accepting and embracing of all women running regardless of her abilities, limitations, goals, or intentions. While I have individual pace goals that I would like to hit, my ultimate goal of running is to have fun, enjoy life, and socialize with friends.”
“I loved it when you reiterated the need for an 'all inclusive’ banner when it comes to bringing in new members. Good reminder that we just need to keep saying those words. People do still seem to think that you have to be ‘fast’ to be with Oiselle, and I dispel this myth constantly! Is there a French phrase for ‘inclusivity’ that works better? ’Tout le monde’?”
“Things that I think can be better and may be a challenge with growth:
- Balance the signal. I've heard of an app that's being developed. Maybe this will help? Or maybe encourage more regional sharing? The way Facebook works, it makes groups of the current size hard to follow. Though it IS a wonderful resource.
- Encourage those new to not be intimidated by the team. I promise you that I'll continue to reach out as much as I'm capable. I know others very much do the same and I really believe the "in-person" connectedness is what really brings this team together.”
Katherine Bergh Manga
“I have found myself desiring a more organized effort to channel my energy as part of the team, and 95% of the time ignore the apparel-based posts over social media. I can tell that your apparel is, while important, just part of the story you seek to tell with your brand.”
“Something you mentioned in the podcast was the hope that the current members will not harbor a sense of exclusivity. I actually paused and wrote down your statement because it struck me as so important to the future of the Volée: “I feel confident that there are so many women out there that would be awesome to have as part of the community, and my only hope is that the women that are currently in it open their arms and welcome new women into the group and not have it be like, ‘I was here first, and therefore I want to have it closed off.’” I think this was a growing pain in the early stages of the Volée, as it went from a sort of exclusive ambassadorship via application and acceptance (at least as I understand it – I joined in 2014), to a more open membership type of group. I believe that the women who came through the other side of that transition with smiling faces and open arms are the type of women who see the value and importance of welcoming and supporting this growing team.”
“I just celebrated my 55th birthday and because of OIselle I'm running stronger and faster then ever!!!”
“I joined the Volee team originally because I liked Oiselle's clothes and I wanted to get free shipping and more discounts (it was about the clothes for me) and in the first year of being on the team, that's basically all it was. But after Heather Stephens took over the group, something changed and I started to feel more a part of an actual team of supportive women and not just a customer of a brand.”
“I don't know exactly what I thought the Volée was about when I joined. I only knew that I love running and I love the Oiselle brand. I also had a desire to connect more with a running community. As background, I suspect I am one of the older Volée members at 60 years of age. And especially last year, I was all about running at 60. I get very charged up and motivated by racing. But I am not fast. I simply love to run. As I have learned from the Facebook group, I'm not the only one that works through injury and physical limitations and still loves to run.”
“In 2015 when you collapsed the hierarchy and just made it all Volee was wonderful. It felt like we were all part of the same fan club.”